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Pakistan ‘blasphemy’ law used against kids
Baptist Press/Compass Direct
May 19, 2011
6 MIN READ TIME

Pakistan ‘blasphemy’ law used against kids

Pakistan ‘blasphemy’ law used against kids
Baptist Press/Compass Direct
May 19, 2011

ISTANBUL — Pakistan’s

notorious “blasphemy” laws can put even children at risk, and Christians say

the days when they could teach their offspring pat answers to protect them from

accusations of disparaging Islam or its prophet seem to have passed.

A 30-year-old Pakistani woman who grew up in Lahore said her Christian parents

taught her formula answers to keep from falling prey to accusations under the

blasphemy statutes, such as “I am a Christian, I can only tell you about Him.”

But even then, before militant Islamists began influencing Pakistani society as

they have in recent years, schoolchildren were taught not to discuss religion,

she said.

“We knew never to get into religious discussions with others,” she said. “We

had them at home — our parents would put us through the drill of asking us

tough questions to see how we answered. Only now I realize that was practice

for school.”

In this way, she was imbued with the fundamentals of the Christian faith and at

the same time learned that she should discuss it only with her parents, said

the source, who spoke on condition of anonymity. Though the Christian faith is

inherently evangelistic, the blasphemy laws have made people silent, she added.

The blasphemy statutes signal to non-Muslims that they are second-class or “dhimmi”

status citizens who must stay within narrow social boundaries, leave or be

killed, she said.

“Christians constantly face questions like, ‘What do you think of the Quran, do

you like it?’ and, ‘What do you think of Muhammad?’” she said. “One answer is, ‘As

a Christian I have only read the Bible, I can’t read Arabic.’ These questions

used to be easier to answer, we had formulas. But those are not working any

more. We just tell children ‘Don’t talk about religion in school.’ This is

shaky ground now.”

She added, “Some parents don’t even tell their children about Jesus, because

they are scared they will go to school and say something wrong. One street kid

did not know anything except about the blasphemy law. When her mother was asked

why she did not teach her daughter about Jesus instead of the blasphemy law,

she replied, ‘If I tell her too much, she will talk about it on the street, and

someone will kill her or charge her with blasphemy.’”

The street child, she said, was afraid to tell her what church she attended.

“She said the mullah in the shop behind us was listening,

and as she said that, I saw the man nearly fall off his chair from trying to

listen to us,” she said.

An entire generation, Christians fear, is growing up not knowing their faith

for fear that it will lead to potentially disastrous schoolyard talk. Moreover,

children required to take Islamic studies in school are in danger with a single

misstep.

“If they write anything or misspell anything to do with the prophet Muhammad,

they can be in serious danger,” the source said. “In fact, the other side of

this is that they are made to answer questions saying what a wonderful man he

was.”

Christian kids in predominantly Muslim areas don’t have friends to play with,

as even a cricket game can be risky, she said. Adults are equally fearful.

“People in offices are silenced into

submission,” she said. “The fear is creating aggression.”

Conviction under Section 295-C of Pakistan’s

blasphemy law for derogatory comments about Muhammad is punishable by death,

though life imprisonment is also possible. Curiously, accusers in blasphemy

cases cannot repeat the alleged derogatory comments without risk of being

accused of blasphemy themselves.

A district court judge last November stunned the nation and the international

community by handing down a death sentence to a Christian mother of five for

allegedly speaking ill of Muhammad.

Subsequently three politicians spoke out against the blasphemy law that put

Asia Noreen (also called Asia Bibi) in prison. Two of them have been killed for

standing up for Noreen and against the blasphemy law. One is in hiding for fear

of her life.

Noreen, mother of two children and stepmother to three others, has been in

prison in solitary confinement since June 2009, accused of having blasphemed

against Muhammad, after a verbal disagreement with some women in the village

of Ittanwali, near Lahore.

If she is released from prison, her life will be at risk. Her husband and

children are on the run, receiving constant threats from Muslims who say they

will take justice into their own hands.

Suspected Islamic militants in Faisalabad

shot dead two Christians about to be acquitted of blasphemy charges on July 19, 2010. Rashid Emmanuel, 32,

and his 30-year-old brother Sajid Emmanuel were shot days after handwriting

experts on July 14 notified police that signatures on papers denigrating

Muhammad did not match those of the accused. Expected to be exonerated, the two

leaders of United Ministries Pakistan

were being led in handcuffs under police custody back to jail when they were

shot.

Christian Lawyers’ Foundation President Khalid Gill said the two bodies bore

cuts and other signs of having been tortured, including marks on their faces,

while the brothers were in police custody.

For secular-educated Pakistanis, the blasphemy law has come to symbolize the

measure to which militant Islam has overtaken society. In the span of three

months, Islamists murdered two of the nation’s most outspoken leaders against

the blasphemy law. On Jan. 4 Salman Taseer, the governor of Punjab Province,

was murdered, and on March 2 parliamentarian Shabaz Bhatti, who as federal

minister for minority affairs was the only Christian cabinet member, was

assassinated in Islamabad.

Pakistan is

moving increasingly towards a state driven by fear of militants, where even

moderate politicians make conservative choices to appease Islamist threats,

according to Sara Taseer Shoaib, daughter of the late Taseer.

“Pakistan is

definitely becoming more right-wing and extremist when it comes to religion,”

she said. “Religious parties are gaining a cult following, and even moderate

leaders are trying to gain popularity and votes by taking a right-wing

position.”

The reasons for this shift, she said, are many: issues like defense of the

blasphemy law serve to deflect attention from the real issues of poverty and

lack of hope; there is an increasing trend to blame all woes on the West; and

there is a prevailing sense of a need to defend Islam as the perception remains

that it is under global attack.

(EDITORS NOTE — From Compass Direct News, a California-based news service

focusing on the persecuted church.)

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