Pakistan Clamps Down
Unbelief Brief
June 19, 2023
Pakistan, after lengthy talks with the Islamist extremist TLP, has agreed to take yet further measures against blasphemy in the country.

Pakistani government closes in on new blasphemy crackdown measures

Pakistan, after lengthy talks with the Islamist extremist TLP, has agreed to take yet further measures against blasphemy in the country on top of the scores of arrests and convictions it makes every year.

The new measures involve proactive internet censorship as well as government-sanctioned efforts to combat free thought:

Both sides agreed that … steps would be taken for the establishment of a counter-blasphemy department, and a filtering system would be installed to remove indecent content from social media …

They further agreed that the capacity and efficiency of the already existing body to prevent desecration of the sanctity of the Islam would be enhanced so that it could carry out its work effectively.

One wonders just how many of these anti-blasphemy departments and initiatives can be created before even the most fervent Islamists start to wonder whether they’re becoming redundant.

Vigilante and state “justice” in Bangladesh

In Bangladesh, it has recently been reported that a blasphemy-accused—a Hindu named Titu Roy—has now been convicted and sentenced to ten years’ imprisonment. Back in 2017, he had been accused of sharing blasphemous content on WhatsApp, which provoked riots against the country’s Hindu minority.

Similarly, and more recently, a mob “tried to lynch” another blasphemy-accused, Mohammad Sohel, who “was also accused of offending Prophet Muhammad via Facebook.” He was reportedly “rescued, taken to the hospital, and charged with blasphemy.” Because, of course, no semi-theocracy can stop itself from ensuring the victim of vigilante violence is punished for provoking it.

While the situation in Bangladesh today is a far cry from the mid-2010s, when atheist bloggers were routinely murdered in broad daylight by Islamist extremists, cases such as these demonstrate only too well that the problem of zealous vigilante violence remains endemic in many Muslim-majority, including Bangladesh.

“Incest quiz” blasphemy?

It is looking as though a university teacher in Pakistan, in a somewhat bizarre situation, may face blasphemy charges after placing on an exam questions about “incest” and “polyandry.”

The examination questions the university teacher wrote apparently asked students to speculate on the morality of consensual incestuous relationships as well as the prohibition of “polyandry”—women having multiple husbands—in world religions. 

A somewhat strange question to ask, to be sure—he was terminated from his post shortly after the questions were brought to light—but it appears that a Pakistani government body is now recommending that he face formal charges of blasphemy for disseminating doubts about traditional family structures as prescribed by religious teachings. A committee report concluded: “It is evident that the teacher was intending to sensitise students to these taboos.”

He is likely to be charged under Article 295-A of Pakistan’s penal code, which criminalizes “deliberate and malicious acts intended to outrage religious feelings of any class by insulting its religion or religious beliefs.”

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