The week in “blasphemy” news #36

Poland’s Constitutional Tribunal considers the countries ‘blasphemy’ law – and says it is valid, unfortunately. Bahrain’s new ‘anti-hatred’ laws aren’t a valid way of combating hatred but will instead further criminalize free expression on religion, say experts. Pakistan’s Supreme Court decides it’s not valid to murder people because you think you have a ‘religious duty’ to implement a death-for-blasphemy norm. There are more ‘blasphemy’ victims in Pakistan, and even the United Kingdom doesn’t escape social discrimination. And an Iranian culture minister decides that Salman Rushie speaking about free speech at a book fair is a violation of freedom of expression.

This is the 36th weekly blasphemy round-up!


Singer Doda was fined the equivalent of about US $1,300, for saying of the Bible: “it’s difficult to believe in something that was written by a guy wasted on wine, who smoked pot”

Poland can keep its “blasphemy” law, a Constitutional Tribunal ruled Tuesday 6 October. The disappointing decision that Poland’s quasi-blasphemy law is constitutional scuppers any imminent prospect of repealing the ban on “offending religious feelings”. reports:

The ruling comes after singer and celebrity Doda, who was sentenced to a PLN 5,000 fine for saying that she believes “more in dinosaurs than in the Bible as it’s difficult to believe in something that was written by a guy wasted on wine, who smoked pot,” had filed the inquiry with the tribunal.

Andrzej Wróbel, a justice of the Constitutional Tribunal, said that religious criticism is acceptable, only if it’s devoid of abusive, insulting or degrading opinions. The tribunal said it is necessary to  punish such offenses, because the public debate about religion must be conducted in a cultured and civilized manner.

Bahrain is implementing more ‘blasphemy’ law in disguise, agree experts at the Columbia University Global Free Expression project:

Sheikh Maytham Al Salman explained to Dr. Callamard that the draft bill would 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.” Bahrain’s cabinet discussed the draft law on August 31 2015, and referred it for further study without publishing the actual full draft of the law. Sh. Maytham Al Salman also stated that in his opinion, the draft bill could open the door to abuses, restricting freedom of expression rather than safeguarding society from incitement of hatred. Sh. Al Salman is of the view that the law could also reinforce an ever-present threat of prosecution towards those who express their religious, political and personnel views and opinions. He said: Blasphemy laws in non democratic countries are very selective and are often misused as a punishment tool to deal with outspoken voices.

Dr. Agnes Callamard … has reached the conclusion that the draft law appears to amount to a blasphemy law in disguise and not a law seeking to prohibit incitement to hatred, as per article 20 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Mumtaz Qadri on his arrest in 2011

Mumtaz Qadri on his arrest in 2011

Pakistan: Despite the lawyer’s extremely short-sighted argument that his client had the right to murder his victim on the basis that his client believed the victim deserved to die, the Supreme Court in Pakistan this week upheld a terrorism conviction against Mumtaz Qadri, the self-confessed killer of Punjab governor Salman Taseer.

It’s a case that has rumbled on for years and saw celebrations of Qadri as a hero, by Islamist supporters of the “blasphemy” laws. Qadri’s defense argued that since Taseer criticised the implementation of ‘blasphemy’ laws he was a blasphemer and therefore that Qadri had a “religious duty” to kill him.

The courts had already rejected the argument that, even if blasphemers should be killed, an individual had the right to implement this sentence, and the Supreme Court judge on Monday also disputed the defense argument that Taseer’s criticism of ‘blasphemy’ laws was itself blasphemy:

Justice Khosa in his remarks said that criticising a law does not amount to blasphemy and the press clippings presented in court do not provide sufficient evidence to maintain that the former governor had committed blasphemy.

Al-Jazeera called the decision a “rare victory” for liberals, and it may be the case that “The court’s decision on Qadri’s conviction tentatively signals a new resolve from the Pakistani state.”

However, the final Supreme Court ruling, in restoring a previous interpretation of the murder as “terrorism”, means that Qadri is now due a death sentence, as our coalition partners at the International Humanist and Ethical Union noted in a statement:

In March this year, Qadri was convicted of the self-confessed murder of Salman Taseer, however the Islamabad High Court rejected a terrorism conviction. This meant Qadri was punished almost to the full extent of the law, without mandating a death penalty. We were therefore able to give a qualified welcome for what was a “muddled, but realistic best imitation of justice” available.

Today, however, the Supreme Court has upheld the earlier terrorism conviction and thus restored the death sentence.

As we said in March, not only are we against capital punishment on principle, the risk here is also that this killer — already regarded as a hero by anti-“blasphemy” zealots — will be elevated to full martyr status. Some local allies in our stance against “blasphemy” laws and “blasphemy” violence are celebrating “justice” today, however we regard this as a mistake that risks infuriating Islamist fanatics, and risks escalating “blasphemy”-related violence and injustice in the country.

We remain fully committed in opposition to “blasphemy” laws, in opposition to “blasphemy”-related violence and persecution, and in opposition to the death penalty.

Pakistan: Meanwhile, yet another Christian family seeks justice after a “blasphemy” accusation ruined their lives. In 2012, Anjum Javed was accused of “blasphemy” after handing out Christian literature near the church he worshiped at, in Lahore. Chased into the church by an angry mob, then charged under the dreaded Section 295A of the penal code, Javed has been in hiding and his family have been harassed by police ever since. The persecution has only increased this year, reports

A local mosque in Lahore issued a Fatwa in January 2015 against Anjum Javed announcing that he should immediately be killed as he has committed blasphemy and it’s the duty of every Muslim to ensure that a blasphemer is killed, the locals in the area started the wall chalking campaigns against Javed announcing him as an infidel.

A poster was pasted outside his house claiming that he should immediately be killed as it is the duty of every Muslim to kill a blasphemer.

… On the eve of 2nd August 2015, a group of unknown went to Javed`s residence in Lahore, and asked for him. When they were unable to find him, they assaulted his brother Khurram Maqbool and threatened the other member of the family.

India: Sikh pardon for Sikh accused of “blaspheming” Sikh guru is protested by Sikhs. The protest across several villages in Moga district, Punjab state, Wednesday, decried a decision by Akal Takht, “the highest temporal seat for Sikhs”, to pardon Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh. Singh is chief of Dera Sacha Sauda (a non-profit spiritual civil society organization), and had been accused of “dressing like tenth Sikh Master guru Gobind Singh” in 2007. Hindustan Times reports:

Co-opted member of the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (SGPC) Jagtar Singh, who led the protest march, said there is great resentment among Sikhs over the verdict of the Akal Takht, and termed the pardoning of the Dera chief as “incorrect”.

Police were deployed.

United Kingdom: Nissar Hussain and his wife Kubra converted to Christianity some years ago, and as a British Asian family with six children, they say they are now under attack from Muslim neighbours who regard them as “blasphemers”, reports the Daily Mail:

british-asian-family-accused-blasphemyThey claim they are effectively prisoners in their own home after being attacked in the street, having their car windscreens repeatedly smashed and eggs thrown at their windows.

Mr Hussain, 49, has even given up his career as a nurse due to the effect on his health.

Police have been called numerous times to deal with the trouble but are said to be reluctant to treat the problem as a religious hate crime.

Only one successful prosecution has been made, and Mr Hussain said he feels so let down by police he has lodged a complaint with the Independent Police Complaints Commission.

He also criticised the Anglican Church for failing to provide any meaningful support.

Now the family are likely to move from their home city of Bradford to a ‘white English’ area to escape the hate campaign.

Iran: It’s against freedom of expression to invite an author to a book fair. This is the controversial conclusion of Iran’s Deputy Culture Minister for Cultural Affairs, Seyyed Abbas Salehi. Salehi was responding to the renowned Frankfurt Book Fair’s plan to invite Salman Rushdie to deliver a keynote address “On the significance of freedom of expression for authors and the book industry”. The Tehran Times reports the Deputy Culture Minister’s words of unwisdom:

“If we want freedom to turn into a sustainable issue and not an overture to violence, we should provide the necessary prerequisites,” Salehi told the Persian service of MNA on Monday.

“A basic prerequisite is respect for the sanctities of every religion,” he noted.

Walking that exquisite fine line between mere prediction and outright threat, Salehi warned the organizers of the fair…

… “The plan to invite Salman Rushdie would provoke feelings whose results would not be clear.”

Salehi said that Iran has sent a letter to Frankfurt Book Fair Director Juergen Boos, asking him to cancel their plans for Rushdie’s speech. However, there has been no response from him so far.

He said that Iran has also called upon other Muslim countries to protest against the Frankfurt Book Fair’s plans for Rushdie’s speech.

The Frankfurt Book Fair is slated to take place from October 14 to 18.

After delivering his warning that inviting authors to speak on free speech was against free speech, Salehi then pirouetted on the head of a pin, turned himself inside out, and vanished in a puff of logic.

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Title: The week in “blasphemy” news #36
Date Posted: October 9, 2015
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Category: Round-ups

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