Blasphemy is a capital offence . . . but asking for ID is a Human Rights Abuse

On Monday, November 8, 2010 Aasya (or Asia) Bibi, a 45 year old mother of 5 (the oldest is 20) was sentenced to death in Pakistan for blasphemy.

She was sent on June 14, 2009 by a village elder to collect drinking water for the field laborers.  Some of the Muslim women laborers objected, saying water fetched by a non-Muslim was “unclean.”   Asia replied to the woman, “Are we not all humans?”  That led to a religious argument.  The Muslim women told their local imam of the argument, who filed a police report accusing her of blasphemy.  One of the blasphemies—she actually stated that Muhammad was not a prophet!

By June 19, nothing had happened because of the charges.  The Muslim women who had been involved in the argument got the local Muslim men stirred up.  They went to Asia’s house and forced their way in.  They beat Asia and her children there.  When the police showed up, they took Asia into “protective custody.”

The charges against her for blasphemy were brought under Sections 295-B (blaspheming the Quran) and Section 295-C (blaspheming Muhammad) of the Pakistani Blasphemy Law.  She has been in jail since June 19 of last year.  The option of being freed on bail was never offered because of the danger of riots by the Muslim population.

Since her sentencing on November 8 of this year, Asia’s family has not been allowed to see her.  Her case is being appealed.  Most sentences such as hers are reversed on appeal, but only after several years.  Capital punishment became the mandatory sentence for a conviction on Section 295-C on May 1, 1991.  (Prior to that, a life sentence was also possible.)  Even though no sentences of execution have been carried out under the law, the National Commission for Justice and Peace (NCJP) in Pakistan points out that several accused—as well as their lawyers, and judges who acquit—have been killed or threatened by vigilantes, inside and outside of jail.  Instead of carrying out the sentence of hanging, the condemned simply sit in appalling conditions in prison, mainly in solitary confinement to protect them from death by fellow Muslim inmates.

Switching to an entirely related event, on November 5, 2010, representatives from the United States State Department stood before the United Nations Human Rights Council in a 3 hour session and invited suggestions to the US as to how we can reduce our human rights abuses.  This was the forum in which we raised the Arizona Immigration Law as a source of Human Rights Abuses which we might commit if the federal government cannot prevail in court.  The 47 members  of the Council includes Cuba, Iran, Venezuela, North Korea, Russia, China, Algeria, Bolivia, Nicaragua, Libya, and—get this—Pakistan.  Yes, the country where Asia Bibi was recently sentenced to death for blasphemy and where others have been in prison for decades for the same offense was invited to tell us how to protect human rights.

Under the Bush administration, we had withdrawn from this Council because the member nations makes the entire proposition a farce (my word—the words they used were more diplomatic).  In an effort to reach out to the world community, the Obama administration signed us up to reenter this “Human Rights Anonymous” organization, attend their meetings, and get up in front of them with, “Hi.  I’m the United States and I’m a human rights abuser.  I try hikers as spies if they stray into my mountains.  Er, no, I guess that was Iran (sorry, Iran, no criticism intended).  But I do ask drivers to show ID if they run a red light . . .”  Our membership in this UN organization levels the playing field of Human Rights Abusers between the US and countries such as Pakistan.

What does Pakistan have to say about their Blasphemy Law?  Basically, that all nations in the world should enact similar statutes to protect Human Rights.  As part of the Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC), Pakistan has been trying since 1999 to get the UN to pass a “Defamation of Islam Resolution” which would criminalize words or actions that are against Islam and/or Muslims.  They intensified their push after 9/11.  A couple of years ago, they decided to rename it the “Defamation of Religions Resolution” and push it as a more general law, in spite of the fact that no religion is specifically named in the resolution except for Islam (4 times).  Sparkling new with its generic title, it was passed in March 2009 by the UN Human Rights Commission. The vote count was 23 (Islamic) states in favor, 11 states against, and 13 abstentions.  (Isn’t it interesting that roughly 50% of the countries in the UN Human Rights Commission are Muslim, while only 50 of 194 (195 if you count Taiwan)—or  25%—of the countries in the world are Muslim?)

How can we expect laws passed consistent with this resolution to function in the real world?  We can take a look at Pakistan, who has laws it feels is consistent with this resolution.  Their constitution guarantees religious freedom, so Pakistan is kosher.  But under Blasphemy Laws, there can be a situation like the argument that broke out between neighbors in November of 1992.  As it escalated, Mohammad Sajjad commented that the Virgin Mary had to have been a prostitute.  His Christian neighbor, Gul Masih, retorted that “Mohammad had 11 wives, including a minor.”  Mohammad filed defamation charges. Gul Masih was convicted of blaspheming Mohammad and sentenced to death.  He still sits in jail—for stating a fact.  His neighbor, who uttered the religiously offensive opinion about Jesus’s mother, was never charged with anything.  Yeah, freedom of religion.  In the real world, the law will be used in Muslim Countries to protect Muslims from hearing even the truth about their religion and religious leaders.  In most of the other 75% of the world, it will probably be used to protect Muslims from being offended.

There have been attempts within Pakistan to water down or abolish the blasphemy law.  Fundamentalist Muslims within the country always object, vehemently and with threats or actions of violence.  They want to make it so that it is blasphemous under the blasphemy law to state the opinion that the blasphemy law should be abolished.  Don’t you love that overwhelming moderate Muslim majority that we keep hearing about that exists in the world?

The “Defamation of Religions Resolution” will go before the UN General Assembly in December.  Yes, it will be nonbinding if it is passed.  And yes, it will be a justification for further suppression of religious freedom in most of the world because the “most of the world” that will implement it will be Muslim countries.  Even though they will be as one sided in enforcement as it was in the case of Gul Masih, they will be sanctioned by a UN Resolution.

Our recent election was about the economy and jobs and things that affect us at home.  That is rightly so.  We are hurting.  We need to reestablish a strong economy to be able to competently face the challenge of existing in the current world.  We also need to have time and energy to focus on recognizing our strengths as well as our shortcomings when we interface with other countries. We need to be America again, and not a fading, socialist European wannabe.  The presidential election season for 2012 must begin.

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Published in: on November 16, 2010 at 6:07 pm  Comments (1)  

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