A new “blasphemy” law proposed in Bahrain worries government opposition (and anyone in favour of free expression), Iran’s blasphemy prosecution forces spiritual leader into hunger strike, Pakistan persecutes Hindus and considers amendments, Thailand reacts badly to refugee Christians from Pakistan, India sees a fatwa against a musician for working on the Iranian Muhammad film, and there’s a seriously confused cleric in Morocco.
Bahrain is considering a new blasphemy law, which will likely be used to harass and silence the regime’s critics. Cleric Sheikh Maytham Al Salman, head of the religious freedom unit at Bahrain Human Rights Observatory, expressed fear that it would be wielded to restrict freedom of expression.
Human rights defenders and opposition leaders, who already live under threat of frivolous prosecutions, may become even more vulnerable. Politically motivated accusations of blasphemy tend to lead to sham trials, lengthy prison sentences, and the risk of torture and abuse in detention.
Bahrain’s proposal would criminalize “contempt of religions, such as insulting divinity, defaming divine books, prophets, Allah’s Messengers, as well as their wives or companions.” It would also criminalize “any hate or sectarian discourse that undermines national unity, differentiates between individuals or groups on the bases of religion, creed or sect and triggers conflict between individuals or groups.” On August 31, Bahrain’s cabinet discussed the draft law and referred it for further study.
Iran: The founder of now-banned “Erfan-e Halgheh” (Spiritual Circle) institute is on hunger strike to demand a “fair and open trial”. Mohammad Ali Taheri has been imprisoned since 2011 on charges of “corruption on earth” and “blasphemy”, and on a hunger strike since August 13 2015. International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran notes:
Taheri’s case has been surrounded by uncertainty following contradictory reports on the views of three senior religious leaders regarding whether he has also committed apostasy, a charge that carries the death penalty.
… On October 30, 2011, [Mohammad Ali Taheri] was sentenced to five years in prison for “blasphemy,” 74 lashes for “touching the wrists of female patients,” and 900 million tomans in fines (about $300,000) for “interfering in medical science,” “earning illegitimate funds,” and “distribution of audio-visual products and use of academic titles.”
Pakistan: The National Assembly considers a mixed back of amendments pertinent to ‘blasphemy’ accusations, including both an increased penalty for false accusations, but also an increased punishment of up to three years jail for “hurting religious feelings”!
Pakistan Christians have frequently been attacked by extremists who seek to deny their religious freedom and seek to persecute and oppress them. This has include arrests and of Pakistan Christians by the use of a “blasphemy” law, which extremists can use to harass and persecute others. Reports state that another Pakistan Christian Pervaiz Masih was reportedly arrested in Punjab, Pakistan recently (September 1, 2015) in Pakistan on a false blasphemy charge created to harass him for his religious freedom.
Pakistan: It’s not just Christians under threat of course. “Hindus in Pakistan are targets of attack on life, property and identity“:
…Article 295-C [of the Pakistan constitution] provided death penalty for derogatory remarks by words, visible representation, imputation, innuendo, insinuation or defiling the sacred name of the Holy Prophet. This blasphemy law, meant to protect Muslims and Islam has actually decimated Hindus. National Commission for justice and Peace reported 1400 blasphemy cases since the 1980s whereas The United States Commission for International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) study reported state-sponsored 200 attacks and 1,800 casualties between 2012 and mid-2013…
…As of April 2012, Pakistan did not provide a legal system for registration of marriages for Hindus, so Muslims intimidate, kidnap and forcibly marry the already married Hindu women. No legal recourse is available since previous marriage was not recognised! Non registration also deprives them of Computerized National Identity Card. Hindu girls are routinely kidnapped, subjected to sexual violence, rape, forced prostitution, human trafficking and sale. The famous case of Mukhtara Mai stands out as she was raped on the orders of local tribal council of Jirga! European Organisation of Pakistani Minorities in its Violence against Minorities in Pakistan – 2014 Report narrates the harrowing instances of atrocities against Hindus like kidnap and death of a nine-year-old Hindu girl while being raped; abduction, forced conversion and marriage of Hindu school teacher Sapna; abduction of five children aged between 5 to 10 years of a local well known Hindu trader Saith Bhojrajat gunpoint; forcible conversion of minor daughters Jumna and Pooja of a poor toy maker and instances of bodies found missing from their graves. Sanno Amra and Champa, a Hindu couple in Karachi, returned home to find that their three teenage daughters had been taken to a madrasa, forcibly converted to Islam, and denied unsupervised contact with their parents! Abduction and forcible conversions and marriage of married Hindu women are quite common in Sindh province. The pernicious practice of slavery, though abolished from all civilised countries, still exists in Pakistan as numerous reports suggest millions of Hindus being held as ‘bonded labourers’ in slavery-like conditions in rural Pakistan.
India: Musician A R Rahman gets a blasphemy fatwa for working on that Iranian biopic film on Prophet Muhammad. “Pretty idiotic” comments Gulte.com:
Citing that Prophet himself ordered muslims to not either share his picture or draw it, a Mumbai based Raza Academy considers this act of Rahman and Majid [the Muhammad film director] as unholy and against Islam. They declared that the too have turned blasphemous for the religion. Also the Fatwa condemned casting of non-Muslims in some roles. … The Fatwa also demanded Indian government to ban the film.
Rahman was quick to deny any attempt to cause offence:
“…I’m not a scholar of Islam. I follow the middle path and am part of traditionalist and part rationalist.
“I live in the western and eastern worlds and try to love all people for what they are, without judging them. I didn’t direct or produce the movie ‘Muhammad (PBUH), Messenger Of God.’. I just did the music.”
Morocco: Is wearing hijab an Islamic duty for women, or itself a “heresy” against Islam? Whoever you ask, probably don’t try and get a straight answer out of Mohammed Fizazi, “reformed Moroccan Salafi-jihadist sheikh”, who boldly declares that if any other religious authorities say hijab is a heresy he’ll go along with it, but also it’s an Islamic duty for women, but also he doesn’t seem to know why it might be a duty. Or indeed, a heresy.
The famous Moroccan ultra-conservative cleric posted on his FaceBook page a controversial statement asserting that “if the Higher Council of Ulema, the Commander of the Faithful or any Scientific Council in any Moroccan city issued a statement confirming that wearing the hijab is heresy and alien to Moroccan society, I would be the first to abide by it.”
Stand by for a triple negative, no less:
“I do not consider those who don’t wear the hijab as not chaste,” the cleric said. “There are veiled women who are not chaste, just as there are non-veiled women who are chaste,” the sheikh said, adding that the matter “for me has nothing to do with the dress.”
However, the cleric stressed that wearing the hijab is an Islamic directive that women are required to comply with.
[… Many social media users] were critical of the Cleric’s statement, accusing him of being a “hypocrite.”
And basically a rambling fool?
Pakistan: For Defence Day, Pakistan’s Daily Times recapped “the brave and legendary individuals who died fighting for a better Pakistan”, with a tribute to Federal Minister for Minorities Shahbaz Bhatti, who was gunned down in 2011 for opposing Pakistan’s blasphemy laws.