‘Sar Tan Se Juda:’ Student is Accused of Blasphemy in India
Last Tuesday (November 28th), Prathmesh, a student at Srinagar National Institute of Technology (NIT) was booked for blasphemy allegations against Muhammad for sharing a video of Mosab Hassan Yousef, the disowned son of a senior Hamas leader, criticizing Muhammad. In response to the video being shared, Muslim students of NIT demanded his arrest, NIT barred him from sitting for his final exams, and Prathmesh now faces suspension from NIT and a police investigation. In the video, Yousef simply says:
”Let’s look at Prophet Muhammad’s life. Did he kill people? Yes. Did he marry a 9-year-old child? Yes, he did. Did he kill the Jewish community of Khyber because they did not give him the treasures? And did he have physical relations with Sophia the wife of Kinana the leader of that community the same night he killed her husband? Yes, he did. So where is the tolerance in that? I understand the Muslims are tolerant, But the real nature of Islam is evil.”
Ironically, the video was taken at a debate held at the Los Angeles Museum of Tolerance in March 2012, yet India’s blasphemy law shows no such tolerance for the criticism of religion (although they are far more often applied against Muslims perceived to have insulted Hinduism). Prathmesh has received several death threats, among them: “sar tan se juda,” a call from Islamists for the slaughter of a blasphemer.
Jatau Still Set for Blasphemy Trial, But Nigerian Legal System Drags its Feet
In northern Nigeria, Rhoda Jatau has spent 18 months in prison for sharing a video that condemned the lynching of a Christian, 22-year-old Deborah Samuel Yakubu. Yakubu was kidnapped, stoned, and burned to death shortly after sharing in a students’ WhatsApp group thanking Jesus for helping her pass her exams. None of her killers have since been charged with murder.
Five days after reports of her killing, Jatau shared her opinion with her fellow healthcare workers that Yakubu should have been able to express her religious beliefs without being killed and shortly after, she was arrested and charged with blasphemy, inciting a mob, and contempt of a religious creed.
Since her arrest, her hearing has been continually postponed—and the legal system last week once again refused to set a date for her trial. Human rights experts recognize it as an attempt to keep Jatau in prison indefinitely. Such tactics are very common in blasphemy cases: where too many convictions might attract too much international ire, have the courts deliberately drag their feet instead, imprisoning people for years without trial.
Douglas Todd: It’s dangerous to bring modern-day blasphemy laws to the West
Even as we see blasphemy laws wreaking havoc on people in India and Nigeria, Canada, Australia, and Denmark are considering new laws criminalizing religious ridicule and mockery (i.e. “religious vilification”). Douglas Todd urges these western countries to exercise extreme caution in legislating restrictions on freedom of expression of religious discourse.
The consequences of blasphemy laws in the west would limit the extent of discussion of religious skepticism for fear of persecution, and as Todd points out: “Do we jail attention-seeking singer Madonna for dressing up, as she did again this year, as Jesus Christ for a Vanity Fair shoot?”
While potentially offensive, religious scrutiny is not harmful to anyone. In a secular culture and democratic society, it’s important to tolerate diverse opinions, including the criticism of religion while acknowledging the importance of anti-hate laws.