-Submitted by David Drumm (Nal), Guest Blogger
We have previously discussed the case of Rimsha Masih, an 11-year-old girl who was accused of burning pages of a Quran. In an unusual turn of events, an imam at an Islamabad mosque, identified as Khalid Jadoon Chishti, has been arrested and charged with blasphemy for planting torn pages from a Quran in Rinsha’s trash bag which contained ashes.
A member of the cleric’s mosque has come forward claiming the imam had placed the evidence in the bag and that the imam said it was a good way to get rid of Christians. The fact that the witness came forward two weeks after the girl’s arrest is troubling. Some news reports reference multiple witnesses. The imam denies the allegations.
Christians make up four percent of Pakistan’s population and claim that blasphemy convictions rely on witness testimony that are often linked to vendettas. While blasphemy convictions are common, most are thrown out on appeal, if the accused is not murdered before then.
Although bail on blasphemy charges is unheard of, a Pakistani court has order the release of Rimsha on bail. Her bail was put up by an independent advocacy group. She is expected to be placed in protective custody when she is released from the adult maximum-security prison where she has been held for three weeks in solitary confinement.
Blasphemy laws are designed to prevent criticism of religious views. When a religious worldview cannot stand on its own merit, blasphemy laws help prop it up. If their influence is jeopardized, religious leaders turn to violence and threats of violence to maintain their position of power. When this violence is sanctioned by the state, or propagated under the color of state authority, speaking your mind risks your life.
In a secular state, the separation of church and state removes the color of authority from church actions. To achieve support for its actions, the church must persuade through argument and suffer counter-arguments. The weakness of religious arguments is evidenced by the contempt many leaders espouse for secularism.