Pakistan: another life sentence
In Pakistan, the imaginary crime of “blasphemy” has stolen yet another life with a sentence of permanent imprisonment. The latest victim, whose name was apparently unreported, is another tally on a very, very big board.
This story, however, may be even sadder than many, as it was the victim’s own family who ensured his conviction.
As reported in Dawn:
The complainant in the FIR was father of the accused, whereas his brother also testified against him.
The complainant said that his son was a tubewell operator. He claimed that his son was mentally stable, not having any ailment, but was addicted to ice drug. He stated that they were asking him not to take that drug.
The complainant alleged that at midnight the accused put on fire a copy of the Holy Quran and intentionally desecrated it.
A particularly potent example of the extent to which blasphemy is viewed as the ultimate unforgivable crime in many parts of the Islamic world: not even the bonds of family are enough against it.
UN Human Rights Council: Qur’an burning not free expression
Speaking of the last victim, whose human rights were violated over the allegation of Qur’an burning, the UN “Human Rights” Council apparently agrees: this punishment was appropriate.
Although some countries dissented, the Council has reportedly "voted in favour of a resolution for the 'deliberately and publicly' burning ... the Quran or ‘any other holy book’ to be prohibited by law."
Of course, the burning of other holy texts in public settings is mostly not happening, and it has not become high-profile news, unlike the recent string of public protests in which the Qur’an has been burned in Sweden. The timing of this resolution, shortly after the most recent one, says everything.
The right to free expression is absolute, and it is a shame and a disgrace that the international body which is supposed to protect that right has instead chosen to disdain it for the sake of religious fervor and sensitivity.
A worsening situation in Nigeria
The most high-profile example of religious authoritarianism and militancy in Nigeria today, particularly the majority-Muslim north, is the 24-year imprisonment of Mubarak Bala for his humanist activism.
At the other end, vigilante incidents against those accused of blasphemy and also witchcraft are showing no signs of abatement, and continue to occur with regularity. They have spurred some to call on the government to do more both in response to the incidents and in order to proactively prevent them.
Leo Igwe, a fellow Nigerian humanist activist, has summarized the state of affairs well, arguing correctly for the atmosphere of impunity surrounding blasphemy and witchcraft vigilantism to end. As a demonstrative example, he draws attention to another recent lynching, that of Martina Okey Itagbor in Nigeria’s majority-Christian south, who was accused of witchcraft.
Those who believed that she was a witch and used supernatural means to inflict illness and death on people in the community abducted her, macheted, and lynched her. Suspected witches are subjected to horrific abuses. They are routinely attacked, set ablaze, buried alive, or murdered in cold blood across Nigeria.
As in the case of violations linked to blasphemy allegations, those who suspect, allege, or impute witchcraft act with impunity, and, in most cases, get away with their crimes. The Nigerian law prohibits witchcraft accusations, jungle justice, and trial by ordeal, but perpetrators are seldom brought to justice.