The US State Department on Thursday put Pakistan on a special watch list for “severe violations” of religious freedom. Over the years, there have been several attacks on religious minorities such as Ahmadis, Hindus, Sufis and Christians. The country’s draconian Blasphemy law punishes an insult to Islam with a death penalty. Here is a look at some recent attacks that made the US State Department finally take action:
In 2010, Asia Bibi, a Pakistani Christian woman, was sentenced to death by hanging under the country’s excessively harsh blasphemy law for insulting the Prophet Muhammad, a charge she denied. If executed, she will be the first woman in Pakistan to be lawfully killed for blasphemy.
In May 2010, more than 94 people were killed in simultaneous attacks on two mosques of the minority Ahmadiyya Community in Lahore. The Admadis, a religious minority in Pakistan, have been ostracised chielfy by the orthodox Sunni Muslims of Pakistan because they don’t believe that Mohammad is the last prophet sent to guide mankind.
In July 2010, at least 50 people were killed in a suicide bombing on the Sufi shrine in Data Durbar Complex in Lahore. Sufism, which dwells on mysticism and the love for God, has been under attack in Pakistan because of their religious practices, which are often seen as heretical by the Sunni majority.
On January 4, 2011, Governor of Pakistan’s Punjab province Salman Taseer was assassinated by his bodyguards for his opposition to Pakistan’s blasphemy law. Many had opposed his defence of Asia Bibi.
On March 2, 2011, federal minister of minority’s affairs Shahbaz Bhatti was assassinated for his stance on Pakistan’s blasphemy law. A Roman Catholic, he was the only Christian in Pakistan’s cabinet at that time.
In 2012, terrorists killed 18 Shia Muslims travelling on a bus in Kohistan. The Shias in Pakistan are targeted mainly by the Sunni majority in Pakistan for their differences related to historical events, ideological heritage and issues of leadership.
In August 2012, Rimsha Masih was arrested on blasphemy charges for allegedly desecrating the pages of Quran. She was eventually acquitted after investigations found that a local imam had tried to frame her.
On March 7, 2013, more than 200 houses belonging to Christians were set on fire in Lahore’s Joseph Colony. Pakistan has 2.5 million Christians, about 1.6 percent of the population.
On May 5, 2013, a mob set on fire a temple in Larkana, looted gold artefacts and demolished statues. Pakistan has 8 million Hindus, about 4 percent of the population.
On September 22, 2013, eighty-three people killed in a twin suicide bombing at All Saints Church in Peshawar.
On March 15, 2014, a Hindu temple and a dharamshala in Sindh’s Larkana were burnt after allegations of a Hindu man desecrating copies of the Quran.
On November 4, 2014, a Christian couple were beaten to death and their bodies burnt in a brick kiln for allegedly desecrating the Holy Quran in Punjab’s Kasur district. Five people including a Muslim cleric were sentenced to death for the lynching and another eight jailed for two years each.
On May 13, 2015, at least 43 people were killed after gunmen opened fire on a bus ferrying members of the Ismaili community in Karachi. Ismailism is a branch of Shia Islam and get their name from the acceptance of Isma’il ibn Jafar. They interpret Koran symbolically and allegorically and also believe in religious hierarchy, views which are in conflict with the more puritan principles of Sunni Islam.
On November 21, 2015, a factory owned by members of the Ahmadiyya community in Jhelum set on fire. The factory was attacked because one of its workers was accused of committing blasphemy.
On March 27, 2016, at least 72 people were killed in a suicide bomb explosion in a crowded park in Lahore where Christians were celebrating Easter Sunday.
On April 13, 2017, Mashal Khan was lynched in the premises of Abdul Wali Khan University in Mardan, over allegations of posting blasphemous content online. Investigations later found “no concrete” evidence against Khan.
In December 2017, two suicide bomb explosions killed nine people in a church in Islamabad.
From July 2013 to June 2014, a total of 430 people, including 222 Shias, belonging to religious minority groups were killed in various incidents of sectarian violence, according to a report by the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom. From July 2012 to July 2013, 567 people, including 514 Shias, were killed. From January 2012 to June 2012, 150 people, including 121 Shias, were killed.
Pakistan’s Blasphemy Law
The blasphemy law was enacted by the British who made it a crime to disturb a religious assembly, trespass on burial grounds, insult religious beliefs or intentionally destroy or defile a place or an object of worship.
The military government of General Zia-ul-Haq made several expansions to the existing law. In 1980, a derogatory remark against Islamic personages attracted a punishment of three years in jail.
In 1982, life imprisonment was prescribed for a person indulging in “willful” desecration of the Koran.
In 1986, the death penalty was proposed for a person indulging in the use of derogatory remarks— spoken, written, directly or indirectly— for Prophet Muhammad.
According to a report on the BBC, 633 Muslims, 494 Ahmedis, 187 Christians and 21 Hindus have been accused under various clauses of the blasphemy law since 1986.