Student murdered by other students for “blasphemy” in Pakistan

We’re horrified to hear of the murder today of Mashal Khan, a student in Pakistan who has been killed by other students after he was accused of “blasphemy”.

Detail from the personal Facebook profile of Mashal Khan

According to Dawn.com:

At least 15 people were arrested in connection with the incident, which occurred within the university premises. The campus was shut down until further notice. The hostels were vacated and a search for the remaining culprits was ongoing, police said.

Mardan’s Deputy Inspector General (DIG) of Police Alam Shinwari said the killed student was accused of running Facebook pages which allegedly published blasphemous content.

He was assaulted by a large group of students and appears to have succumbed to a gunshot wound, the DIG said.

A graphic video filmed by someone in the crowd is circulating on social media. It shows students kicking and stamping Khan’s lifeless body, and hitting with sticks a cricket bat.

Police are said to have been present during the attack, and had been on alert specifically because of the “blasphemy” accusation. However, a police spokesperson said there were too many attackers for them to intervene! In the video, an official can be seen intervening at one point, but is ineffectual.

According to iheu.org:

Khan called himself “The Humanist” on his Facebook page. Several ‘liberals’ and atheists have been arrested or “disappeared” since the start of the year in Pakistan, during a period of widespread public hysteria about “blasphemous” content, and a High Court judge orchestrating an crackdown against “blasphemy” on social media.

Mashal Khan in a recent Facebook profile photo

… On his social media, Khan appears to be post routinely against discrimination and in favour of human dignity. “Hide History and Hate Hindus. This is what we are taught in Schools… #Pathetic”, he wrote. “If you are black or you are brown or you are gay or you are lesbian or you are trans or you are introvert, anyone that is treating you unkindly, it’s only because they are afraid or they have been taught to be afraid of how important you are. Because being different means you make a difference. So f*** em…”

A spokesperson for Atheist and Agnostic Alliance Pakistan (AAAP) said:

“We are already extremely worried about recently arrested atheists, Ayaz Nizami and Rana Nouman, and the murder of Mashal Khan makes us more concerned than ever. In a country like Pakistan, when the police stand by as mobs of students who are supposed to be interested in ‘higher learning’ commit this atrocity, it is lawless. What if someone try to kill Ayaz Nizami and Rana Nouman in prison? Will the guards stand by?

“There will be no justice while ‘blasphemy’ is a crime and people feel they can get away with murder.”

Chief Executive of the International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU), Gary McLelland, said:

“This heinous act by university students against one of their own should appall everyone in Pakistan and around the world.

“And this kind of frenzy does not come from nowhere. This vile murder must be a wake-up call to the High Court judges, and to all those government agencies and members of the police and other security services who this year have participated in a campaign of persecution against individuals for so-called ‘blasphemy’. They have been whipping up anti-blasphemy hysteria, when they should be interesting in upholding individual human rights. They have been “disappearing” and harassing and arresting innocent people, when they should have been taking action against those who agitate and send death threats against ‘blasphemers’.

“Pakistan has a social order problem and a blasphemy law problem. These problems will not solved by whipping up a frenzy or by imposing more controls on free expression on religion or non-religion. A tolerant society is not achieved by public officials venting their own intolerance, and facilitating wider public intolerance. It is achieved by upholding freedom of expression, freedom of thought and belief for everyone.

“It is past time to abolish anti-blasphemy laws in Pakistan and everywhere.”

Even under the law, the crime of “blasphemy” carries a death sentence in Pakistan.

The university has been closed until further notice.

Greece quashes charges in pasta-based “blasphemy” case

The man at the centre of the pasta-based Facebook “blasphemy” trial in Greece, has had his suspended 10-month prison sentence quashed in the appeals court.

However, the conviction was quashed only due to an administrative process aimed at clearing out “misdemeanor” crimes that had taken too long to process. The court reportedly activated article 8 of law 4411/2016 which cancels misdemeanors committed up until March 31, 2016.

An image from the Elder Pastisios Facebook page, for which one Greek man has suffered years in the courts under “blasphemy” laws

Philippos Louizos was convicted in January 2014 and handed a suspended sentence of ten months for making Facebook posts in which he depicted a revered Orthodox monk, Elder Paisios, with pasta for a face, thus making a pun on his name, and borrowing imagery from the satirical Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster. He had given the pasta-faced satirical figure the name “Elder Pastitsios”. Pastitsio is a local dish made from pasta and béchamel sauce.

Louizos’ initial arrest in 2012 was reportedly linked to pressure by the Greek neo-Nazi Golden Dawn party.

The Humanist Union of Greece (HUG) comments: “The quashing of blasphemy charges against Philippos Louizos because of the conditional prescription of all small crimes to alleviate the work of overburdened Greek courts ended his judicial harassment on 2 March 2017. Philippos and the Humanist Union of Greece that offered him free legal aid are not satisfied though as he was not given a chance to be acquitted on the merits during the appeals trial.”

There was a concerted effort by humanists in Greece and internationally to abolish the Greek ‘blasphemy’ laws, writing to government officials in June last year and again early last month.

HUG comments: “They also regret that the international campaign by humanist organizations in 2016 and the UN CERD recommendations in August 2016 that Greece abolishes the effectively discriminatory Articles 198 and 199 of the Criminal Code criminalizing blasphemy did not lead to the abolition of the charges before the trial, despite repeated Greek government pledges before three UN bodies and through public statements that they would have done so.

“Once more, the supposedly progressive SYRIZA-led government gave in to the aggressive public opposition of Greek Orthodox bishops. On the contrary, Hellenic Police reports frequent arrests and fresh charges for blasphemy, the most recent in December 2016 and January 2017. The campaign to end blasphemy laws in Greece will now take new forms including before the domestic courts.”

The Greek “blasphemy” law remains on statute.

Denmark reactivates ‘blasphemy’ law to charge man who burned Quran

A man whose named has not been made public has been charged with ‘blasphemy’ in Denmark. The 42-year-old allegedly made a film of himself burning a copy of the Quran and shared the film online.

He gave the video the title: “Consider your neighbour: it stinks when it burns” and posted the video to a Facebook group (“YES TO FREEDOM – NO TO ISLAM”) which contains numerous hateful and racist posts.

Jan Reckendorff, from the public prosecutor’s office in Viborg, said: “It is the prosecution’s view that circumstances involving the burning of holy books such as the Bible and the Quran can in some cases be a violation of the blasphemy clause, which covers public scorn or mockery of religion.

“It is our opinion that the circumstances of this case mean it should be prosecuted so the courts now have an opportunity to take a position on the matter.”

The accused could face a fine or even a prison sentence for the ‘blasphemy’ charge.

Responses by humanist groups at home and internationally

The Danish Humanist Society, Humanistisk Samfund, said the use of the ‘blasphemy’ law was “scandalous” and that “Legislation should protect  the individual freedom of speech and individuals against hate-speech and hate-crimes. Hateful and critical utterances directed at ideas, religions and ideologies should be fought with words and debate.” Lone Ree Milkær, chairperson of the Danish Humanist Society, said: “Denmark should abolish the blasphemy law. We have freedom of religion and belief and it makes no sense to have a special protection of religions or worship. Imagine that we protected ideologies in the same way. In a secular democracy we should be able to tolerate utterances (and actions with no victims) that we dislike or disagree with and we should argue against them instead of punishing by law.”

IHEUAndrew Copson, President of the International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU), a transnational partner in the campaign, said: “We condemn the use of ‘blasphemy’ laws in all circumstances. Around the world, accusations of ‘blasphemy’ can spark mass protests, the harassment of individuals, or even murder. ‘Blasphemy’ is a bizarre, fictitious notion as a crime and has no place in courts of law anywhere in the world. … The answer to anti-Muslim bigotry, when that is what is going on, is education and understanding and dialogue. The answer is emphatically not to resurrect the state policing of religious acts and language.”

For the Center for Inquiry, a US-based national partner in the End Blasphemy Laws campaign, Michael De Dora said: “The fundamental rights that allow a religious believer to freely profess the divinity of a holy book also allow someone else to defile that book, and still others to censure such an action… While the actions of the accused may be offensive and his sentiments ugly, real democracy is only possible with the freedom to criticize even the most deeply held beliefs.”

Context

This is only the fourth prosecution in Denmark for ‘blasphemy’, and the first since 1971, when two producers for the station Denmark Radio were charged after airing a song mocking Christianity. They were acquitted.

Other cases have been considered by prosecutors but without charges being brought forward.

In 2006, the newspaper Jyllands-Posten was investigated over publication of a set of caricatures under the headline “The Face of Mohamed”, but no one was charged.

In 2014, Danish-Iranian artist Firoozeh Bazrafkan held an art exhibition called “Blasphemy” and which featured the shredded remains of the Quran. She said at the time “I want to continue to remind people that it’s okay to disagree.” She was not charged with ‘blasphemy’ over this or any other of her art projects, often rebuking and condemning aspects of religion, however she has previously been convicted under Danish anti-racism legislation.

 

Blasphemy law abolished in Alsace-Moselle region of France

neuf-church-metz-alsace-moselle

A Protestant church in Metz, built between 1901 and 1905, during the Wilhelmine period in Alsace-Lorraine under German supervision.

The ‘blasphemy’ law in force in the region of Alsace-Moselle, France, has been repealed by the national Senate!

The repeal has been termed an “evolution” by lobbyists, and means that France is now free of ‘blasphemy’ laws as such!

How did France, a country renowned for its secularism, end up with a ‘blasphemy’ law on the books as late as 2016? The area where this law was in force was the Alsace-Moselle territory, covering the entire region of Alsace and the département of Moselle in the northeast of the region of Lorraine, and bordering Germany. The territory had been part of the German Empire from 1871 to 1918, and was occupied by Germany during World War II. The Alsace-Moselle ‘blasphemy’ law, articles 166 and 167 of the local penal code, had been inherited from the German Criminal Code of 1871, and kept in place ever since.

The territory has long-maintained its own local legislation reflecting the unique history of the area, despite being part of the French republic. While the ‘blasphemy’ law is now repealed, various religious privileges and exemption from the 1905 law “on the Separation of the Churches and the State” remain.

France, previously awarded a yellow “Local restrictions” rating on the End Blasphemy Laws Campaign map, now gets the “all clear” for ‘blasphemy’.

Greece must uphold pledge to abolish “blasphemy”

More than 50 secular and human rights groups, including numerous members of our International Coalition Against Blasphemy Laws, have joined the Humanist Union of Greece in demanding that Greece uphold the pledges of consecutive governments and finally end “blasphemy” law in Greece. Continue reading »

Stop Victim Blaming: Take Action Against Violence

There have been a string of brutal killings against those who are said to have “blasphemed” or have shared political and religious views that are contrary to the views held by the Islamic extremists perpetrating the attacks. Human rights groups are fighting back – but it’s an uphill struggle against the a political culture that blames the victims themselves! Continue reading »

The week in “blasphemy” news #40

Pakistan’s glimmers of hope and long-term challenges, Australia’s billboard self-censorship, and Nigeria’s warning against “false” ‘blasphemy’ accusations. In India, Sikh protesters demand use of the country’s ‘blasphemy’ law. In Russia, the Kremlin hits out at Charlie Hebdo. In Egypt, intellectuals hit out at “blasphemy” laws! And in Mexico it’s Day of the Dead, to the ire of the Vatican.

Our 40th round-up of blasphemy news and views from around the world. Continue reading »

In the aftermath of a machete attack…

Even as more atheists are targeted in Bangladesh, leaving a secular publisher hacked to death at his place of business, the government responds by dismissing the killings as “isolated incidents” and blaming political opponents. As fears grow that the authorities have completely lost control of the situation, Islamist groups claim responsibility, and broaden the spectrum of targets they consider as “blasphemers”. End Blasphemy Laws looks at the aftermath of yet another machete attack in Bangladesh… Continue reading »

The week in “blasphemy” news #39

In Pakistan, rare sort of progress at the Supreme Court on ‘blasphemy’. In Turkey, another rare victory, at the Court of Appeals.

In Indonesia, “sole”-searching leads to a ‘blasphemy’ court case. In India, two distinct ‘blasphemy’-type claims have the Sikh community in turmoil. In Argentina, Barbie and Ken stoke controversy. While the Catholic Church seems to have an internal “heresy” problem.

And in comment and opinion pieces, there’s a reminder of the violence stalking Bangladesh, Roger Scruton defends “the right to insult”, and somewhere between Canada, India and Pakistan, hardliners selectively celebrate liberalism when it suits them.

This is your 39th weekly round-up of ‘blasphemy’ news and views from around the world. Continue reading »