The week in “blasphemy” news #11

An author drugged and detained against her will in a psychiatric hospital after Salman Rushdie comments. A graffiti artist facing religious “offence” charges over a mural. An Ahmaddiya newspaper manager is being prosecuted for putting out an Ahmaddiya newspaper. And Jesus Christ is back in Kerala.

Your Friday round-up of the past 7 days in “blasphemy” news and views.


ZP Dala

ZP Dala

South African uthor ZP Dala was detained against her will in a mental institution, in the aftermath of expressing support a few weeks ago for fellow author Salman Rushdie. Apparently convinced to check in to the psychiatric unit by Islamic clerics, to reassess her pro-Rushdie views, she was drugged and refused permission to leave.

In the previous incident, following a Durban writers’ conference, Dala was hit in the face with a brick.

Now, according to PEN America, the shocking news has come about that Dala has been put under “extreme pressure” by members of the Muslim community in Durban to “renounce her statement about Rushdie’s work” and “to make a public vow of religious loyalty to Islam”.

When she refused, she was apparently admitted to a mental institution.

PEN America has called for Dala’s “immediate and unconditional release” and has also called on President Jacob Zuma and the South African Authorities to “ensure Ms Dala’s safety and to prevent reprisals against her freedom of expression and thought”.

PEN’s original warning statement has been followed by a note of thanks from Dala herself.

I would like to thank PEN Centers in South Africa, America, and the U.K. a million times over for mobilizing so quickly and working so hard to secure my release from St. Joseph’s psychiatric hospital.

I felt myself slipping into a deeper depression while there. I felt cut off from the world and that my faculties were compromised by excessive medication.

I am now home with my family, laughing kids and overgrown garden.

Please convey my sincerest and most heartfelt thank you to all at PEN and all others who assisted in securing my release.


Pakistan‘s president Hussain said this week that the government is taking “effective measures” to prevent “misuse” of blasphemy laws (Islamabad is working to flatter Germany ahead of a planned visit by Chancellor Merkel later this year). Despite these protestations, however, in what has been widely regarded as another flagrant attack on the Ahmadiyya Muslim community in Pakistan, the manager of daily newspaper Al-Fazl, a 102-year-old Ahmadiyya publication was sent to jail after a judicial magistrate dismissed his bail application on Wednesday.

In yet another sign of the absurdity of “blasphemy” prosecutions in the country, the manager, Tahir Mehdi Imtiaz Warraich, faces multiple charges being heard at the “anti-terror” courts, merely for publishing a news sheet about his religion.

Millat Park police had recently arrested him near an anti-terrorism court after he had appeared before the court in connection with his bail application in a different blasphemy case lodged two years ago. Warraich was on his way home after securing interim bail when he was arrested by police near the court following a tip-off by an anti-Ahmadiyya group active in the city. Police made the arrest in connection with an FIR registered on April 16, 2014 under Sections 295-A and 298-C of the Pakistan Penal Code.

Hafiz Nasir, the complainant in the case, had said that he had purchased a burger from a joint owned by Imran Nasir and Adnan Nasir. He said he had found copies of Ahmadiyya monthly Ansarullah among other publications in the shopper bag containing the burger. Nasir said editor Ahmad Tahir Mirza, composer Farhan Ahmed, publisher Abdul Manan Kausar and printer Warraich had outraged his religious feelings by printing and circulating the magazine in a bid to propagate Ahmadiyyat.

… The preceding FIR was lodged against manager Warraich, hawker Khalid Ashfaq, printer Abdul Sami, publisher Tahir Mehdi and two other suspects on April 10, 2013 under Sections 295-B and 298-C of the PPC and 11(w) of the Anti-Terrorism Act for printing and circulating Al-Fazl.


Vladamir Putin having only so recently signed legislation outlawing offence to the “feelings of religious believers”, it would be a shame not to use it, wouldn’t it? A famous graffiti artist in Russia faces a police investigation for a mural unveiled over Orthodox Easter.

Zhunev's potentially "blasphemous" Juri Gagarin mural

Zhunev’s potentially “blasphemous” Yuri Gagarin mural

The painting depicts a crucified Yuri Gagarin, the first human to travel into outer space. The painting was made public on April 12, the Day of Astronautics in Russia, observed to celebrate achievement in space technologies. April 12 was also Easter Sunday for Orthodox Christians.

On his Facebook profile, Zhunev wrote that he wanted to draw attention to the “centuries of confrontation” between science and religion. He is known for promoting tolerance in his artwork and he maintains that he “did not by any means mean to offend believers, or art, or sciences”. But if the community is somehow disturbed, Zhunev added, “it means that something is not quite right in our society because it is unacceptable that people feel insulted by insignificant things.”

Here’s a sentence to chill the bones:

The police will seek the opinion of religious experts in determining whether the nature of the work is offensive.


In India, the musical Jesus Christ Superstar, created by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice, is heading back to Kerala State, India, after a ban of more than 25 years.

An elated Father Abraham Vellathadathil of Kottayam, who challenged the ban in the Kerala High Court and apex court, says his fight was against ‘injustice and discrimination’.

“I went to the Supreme Court as it was an injustice, insult and discrimination against the people of Kottayam. The whole thing was exercised by a public authority to satisfy personal grievance and vendetta against social activist Mary Roy,” Father Abraham, a priest in CSI church in Kottayam dioceses, told PTI.

Alphons Kannamthanam, former IAS officer and then Kottayam Collector and presently BJP National Executive committee member, had ordered the ban on October 15, 1990 at 5.05 PM just as the play was to be staged by students of Mary Roy’s School at Kottayam, who were all dressed up to play their part.

… According to the petitioner, the rock opera was a ‘literary piece staged and enjoyed by Christians everywhere, including in the Vatican’.


In China, fighting back against the appetite for freedom of expression, and the dilution of its powers of control by social media, the government is now threatening to shut down the Sina Weibo news servicesupposedly in response to a slew of complaints. Curiously, for an officially atheist, Communist state, part of the problem is apparently “heretical” content…

Among the complaints are that the news is used to spread rumors, to provide data about violent terrorism, obscenity, pornography, fraud and to propagate heresy or religious groups disapproved by the central government such as the Falun Gong.

Some complained of distortion of news facts, breaching morality and hyping some news. However, the Administration did not provide specific examples of news items that readers allegedly complained about.

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Title: The week in “blasphemy” news #11
Date Posted: April 17, 2015
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Category: Round-ups

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