Christian Pastor Zafar Bhatti has reportedly been shot and killed by a Pakistani policeman, who also wounded another prisoner, 70-year-old Briton Muhammad Asghar. Both are in jail for blasphemy. Bhatti was a human rights activist fighting for the rights of Christians in the country. His death (and the convenient shooting of another alleged “blasphemer”) is viewed as highly suspicious given the past threats against his life from other prisoners and guards.
His family insisted that the text messages deemed derogatory to the Prophet Mohammed’s mother were actually sent from another person’s phone. It is an affront to the basic notions of human rights that someone could even be jailed for simply insulting the mother of Mohammed.
Asghar, from Edinburgh, was arrested in 2010 and sentenced to death in January after a disgruntled tenant brought police a collection of letters that described himself as a prophet. Asghar has a history of mental illness, including diagnosis for paranoid schizophrenia.
In Pakistan’s warped legal system, his lawyers were barred from attending the last few months of his trial and have had to conceal their names to avoid being killed by irate Muslims for their representation of an alleged blasphemer.
Pakistan continues to arrest and kill people who are deemed to have insulted Islam. Activists say that some 48 people accused of blasphemy have also been extrajudicially killed, including seven in prison or outside court. Lawyers representing some of the accused have been beaten or killed.
Much of this writing has focused on the effort of the Obama Administration to reach an accommodation with allies like Egypt and Pakistan to develop a standard for criminalizing anti-religious speech. We have been following the rise of anti-blasphemy laws around the world, including the increase in prosecutions in the West and the support of the Obama Administration for the prosecution of some anti-religious speech under the controversial Brandenburg standard.
These cases reflect the true purpose of blasphemy laws: to silence minority sects and religious critics in the name of a “true faith.” Fortunately the effort of Hillary Clinton and others in the Administration to reach a compromise on blasphemy failed, though there continue to be efforts to create an international standard.