The week in “blasphemy” news #37

There were a lot of cases of ‘blasphemy’ in Pakistan last year, 1,400, and that’s just the formally registered ones. In another case this week, a Pakistani Christian father has had to flee with his sons after being told he couldn’t use the village’s only clean water tap unless the family converted.

India under Prime Minister Modi is sliding into the same cycle of ‘blasphemy’ violence, as cow protection laws prompt persecution and vigilante killings, one author argues. Meanwhile, an internal Sikh “blasphemy” protest escalates and police raid houses.

Egypt upholds a TV presenters’ “blasphemy” conviction, meaning he may face five years in jail for questioning Salafi Islamism on air. While in the UK, campaigner Maryam Namazie writes on the need to tackle Islamism head on.

And, following a controversial stage performance, there are shock new claims that “Literally Madonna is Lucifer”.


All this and more in this unfortunately very full 37th of our weekly updates on blasphemy news and views.

Pakistan: There were 1,400 formally registered cases of “blasphemy” in 2014, a seminar attended by various lawyers and other experts heard this week. Despite the claims of some who defend the ‘blasphemy’ laws as applying equally, in fact minorities were said to be significantly over-represented, with only just over half the cases (800) being registered against Muslims. Daily Times Pakistan reports:

[Senior lawyer] Mr. Mumtaz Shah said it has become dangerous even for lawyers to fight the case of an accused in Blasphemy law. “Rashid Rehman who was dealing a blasphemy case of a professor in Multan was threatened by some goons belonging with a religious party in the court room and in the presence of a judge, but no action was taken he the lawyer was murdered in his office. “Nothing has happened to bring the main culprits to the justice,” he added.

Giving another example he mentioned that a case was filed against 60 lawyers who were protesting against the local SHO of police Umar Daraz. The police officer accused in the FIR that the protesting lawyers were chanting slogans against Hazrat Umar. Justice (Retd.) Majid Razvi said poverty and illiteracy are the basic problems in Pakistani society, which have strengthened the intolerance and militancy in the society. “If we analyze our school syllabus we would find that gradually hatred is incorporated,” she added. …

Pakistan: There were at least new ‘blasphemy’ cases reported this week in the country.

A Christian “spiritual healer”, Naveed Masih, used by Muslims as well as Christians, was accused “blasphemy”, apparently for possessing a sword (which had been gifted to him) inscribed with Islamic writing. But the police appear to have no complainant in the case, and stand accused of issuing the blasphemy charge because Masih refused to bow to extortion by local police officers.

In another case newly reported this week, a Christian family were forced to flee their home after local Muslims demanded that if they wanted to use the only village water supply they must convert to Islam. Christian Post reports:

According to the British Pakistani Christian Association, the accused Christian man, 40-year-old Aftab Gill and his family from the Wazirabad area of Punjab province, regularly collected their home’s water supply from the local mosque’s tap — just like many others in the community.

As the mosque’s water tap is the only real clean supply available to the community, Gill, who cares for his five children, was drawing water on Aug. 14 when he was told by a Muslim man that Christians were not allowed to draw from the tap unless they accepted Islam.

“You Christians are not allowed to take water from the mosque,” the man shouted to Gill. “If you want to drink our water, you must embrace Islam and pray regularly inside the mosque. Otherwise evil infidels defile our water taps.”

There were several threats, followed a few days later by a physical assault on the son and the father was reportedly beaten. Despite some police efforts to protect the family, most of them have fled the village.

A widely shared photograph of Asia Bibi, from before she was jailed and sentenced to death for "blasphemy" in Pakistan

A widely shared photograph of Asia Bibi, from before she was jailed and sentenced to death for “blasphemy” in Pakistan

Pakistan: It was also reported this week that long-time ‘blasphemy’ convict Asia Bibi was put in solitary confinement “over fears of attacks by vigilantes”:

The move came after “genuine” threats to her life were issued in the wake of a Supreme Court ruling that upheld the death sentence for Mumtaz Qadri, the killer of Punjab province governor Salmaan Taseer…

“She (Bibi) could be killed by any inmate or even a prison guard, so we have to be careful,” a prison official told AFP. A second official confirmed that Bibi had been isolated, adding: “We are concerned for her life.”

The second official, who spoke to AFP on condition of anonymity, said Bibi’s health had deteriorated.

“She was vomiting blood last month and was having difficulty walking,” the official said, adding that Bibi had been diagnosed with hepatitis B, a claim other officers did not confirm.

Pakistan: Also this week, after some recent signs that the government and judiciary may be hardening against the country’s out of control ‘blasphemy’ accusations, there was another rare (and very slight) glimmer of light, as Pervaiz Masih (a blasphemy accusation victim we’ve reported on previously, following his arrest on 2 September 2015) has actually been granted bail, a rare feat in Pakistan, as Christian Post explains:

He is one of the rarest cases in the history of Pakistan when a Blasphemy Victim is granted post arrest bail after one month from Sessions court, otherwise such cases go to High court or Supreme Court.

Many victims in the case under section 295 C are sentenced punishment by the courts such as Sawan Masih, Asia Bibi and many more, and most of the cases are refused Bail on session court’s level e.g. Adnan Masih, Pastor Aftab Gill and others etc.

Aneeqa Maria Advocate who heads The Voice Society says “We pray for their release as well. but here in this case God has blessed us with this Huge success, its a big achievement for us because Kasur is one of the conservative areas of Punjab and it is very dangerous to contest a case like this in such an area, moreover i must mention here that it is the same case when The Voice’s team was DETAINED by the Police of Kasur in the middle of the night and was threatened and harassed by the Police. I am thankful to all of you for your prayers and wishes for me and my team” [sic]

Other Christian activists also welcomed the news, though noting that charges are still pending.

India: As we reported a few weeks ago, a Muslim family was recently attacked in Dadri, Uttar Pradesh, India after rumours that they might have eaten beef. The mob violence left the father, Mohammad Akhlaq, dead. A number of sources have drawn parallels between the Akhlaq killing by Hindus in India and the numerous cases of ‘blasphemy’ accusations and violence in Pakistan.

The Nation’s Kunwar Khuldune Shahid argues:

The parallels between mob lynching over blasphemy and beef on either side of the Indo-Pak border are rather obvious. The beef-lynching incident in Dadri, just like almost every act of religiously motivated mob violence in Pakistan, was initiated in a place of worship, when Bishada’s Hindu temple announced that 52-year-old Mohammad Akhlaq had slaughtered a calf and eaten its meat.

… [Indian Prime Minister] Modi’s first comment on the Dadri lynching yesterday, 16 days after the incident, was to call it ‘unfortunate’.

… The similarity in the beef ban legislation and Pakistan’s blasphemy law should ring ominous alarm bells for all progressive Indians. The reason why both laws are “misused” by mobs is because they give preference to religious sentiments of one community over the other.

At, author and journalist Ajaz Ashraf, explains how “Cow protection laws are hurtling India down the path of Pakistan’s blasphemy edicts“:

But similar examples of barbarity can’t be found in India, you’d say. Think again.

Last year, a mini-van was stopped at a police check-post in Chhawla village of Delhi’s Najafgarh area. Its driver had been contracted by the South Delhi Municipal Corporation to take carcasses of cows for cremation. His name: Santosh Kumar. His caste: Valmiki. Soon, boys riding motorcycles swooped on him, smashing his skull. In 2002, five Dalits in Jhajjar district of Haryana were lynched by a VHP mob at a police station. They were ferrying the carcasses of cows for which they, like Santosh Kumar, had the requisite licence.

In Dadri, a Homeguard constable was among those who is said to have compelled the local temple priest to announce that Akhlaq had eaten beef and stored some at his home. Five months before Dadri, video clips went viral showing vigilante groups in Punjab tonsuring a truck-driver and torturing him. The driver was ferrying cows. In March, two Muslims were arrested from Malegaon, Maharashtra, for allegedly slaughtering a cow.

As an exercise, Google “FIRs lodged against cow slaughter” to see how India’s cow protection laws are being increasingly used to bind citizens, in much the same way as Pakistan’s blasphemy laws are.

… The passionate debate over the cow and amendments to state laws protecting it are taking place in the larger context of the BJP’s attempt to stoke the religiosity of Hindus and fictionalise history.

… From this perspective, Mohammad Akhlaq was not an accident, as Culture Minister Mahesh Sharma would have us believe. His death was waiting to happen. Similarly, India will be lucky if it manages to veer away from the path to perdition, a road on which Pakistan has some lead already. There is no mistaking that its blasphemy laws and India’s cow-protection laws are milestones counting down to catastrophe.

The full, detailed piece is available at

A wider protest has also seen several writers returning their renowned Sahitya Akademi awards, in protest at increasing government restrictions on freedom of expression generally.

India: We reported last week on protests by some Sikhs against other Sikhs who pardoned an individual Sikh for the crime of allegedly “dressing up” as a Sikh guru. The protests appear to be escalating, with campaigners against the alleged “blasphemy” stepping up their campaign, and police cracking down alleging that the protesters were suspected of “harassment”. Sikh Siyasat News reports:

Sikh youth activists holding placards during a demonstration at Amritsar

Sikh youth activists holding placards during a demonstration at Amritsar

In order to suppress an ongoing poster campaign calling for boycott of persons holding posts of the Sikh Jatehdars, the Punjab police has launched a crackdown against Sikh youth activists. The Punjab police has reportedly arrested at least two leaders of Sikh Youth of Punjab (SYP) that was spearheading the campaign launched by its parent body- the Dal Khalsa. The campaign was aimed at calling upon the Sikh masses to boycott Sikh Jatehdars for announcing so-called pardon to the dera Sauda Sirsa chief.

SYP representatives told Sikh Siyasat News (SSN) that the Punjab police raided the houses of SYP leaders on Thursday, Friday and Saturday. SYP president Paramjeet Singh Tanda and Amritsar district leader Gagandeep Singh were arrested in these raids.

… “In all five persons are arrested so far by the police and they were sent to Amritsar jail under so-called preventive detention measure”, Advo. Cheema said.

SYP representatives said that the police was conducting raids to arrest other SYP activities who have gone underground to avoid their arrest and suspected harassment.

Various Sikh personalities and even SGPC members belonging to the Shiromani Akali Dal (Badal) have condemned the police action.

… It may be recalled here that the Sikh Jatehdars’ decision to grant pardon to Dera Sauda Sirsa chief Gurmeet Ram Rahim in 2007 blasphemy charges have trigger wider outrage from the Sikh community as the decision is considered to be taken to suit the political interests of the ruling party. There has been massive opposition to Jathedars’ decision and it is being demanded by a large section of the global Sikh community that Jathedars responsible for the decision should leave their positions.

Islam al-Beheiry presents

Islam al-Beheiry presents

Egypt: In a case we’ve covered previously, an Egyptian appeals court has now upheld a five-year prison sentence against Islam El-Behery, a prominent Islamic researcher and TV presenter. He was convicted in May of “contempt of religion” and released on bail, following TV shows which offered liberal theological criticisms of some Islamist claims. The verdict is not final as another appeal is possible. Ahram Online reports:

The researcher’s show, With Islam, was canceled in April. It aired on satellite TV channel Al-Kahera Wal-Nas and tackled controversial issues like punishments for apostasy and different interpretations of Islam.

The sentence can be appealed in front of another second instance appeals court. After that court’s decision, a final resort would be the Court of Cassation, a court of the highest instance.

The Arab Network for Human Rights Information condemned the verdict:

“In a democratic society, countering opinions shouldn’t occur through terrorising and courts, but through exchanging arguments, as long as they don’t include hate speech,” the network said, adding that “insulting religion is a vague charge that violates the freedom of speech”.

United Kingdom: After first being blocked, and then permitted to speak to the University of Warwick Atheists, Secularists and Humanist student society, Maryam Namazie discusses “Why I speak out against Islamism“:

For those who have bought into the Islamist narrative, there are no social and political movements, class politics, dissenters, women’s rights campaigners, socialists – just homogenised “Muslims” (read Islamists) who face “intimidation” and “discrimination” if an ex-Muslim woman speaks on a university campus.

This politics of betrayal ends up denying universalism, seeing rights, equality and secularism as “western”, justifying the suppression of women, apostates and blasphemers under the guise of respect for other “cultures” – imputing on innumerable people the most reactionary elements of culture and religion, which is that of the religious right. According to this view, the oppressor is victim, the oppressed “incite hatred”, and any criticism is bigotry.

France: A new best selling book in France, Who is Charlie? by Emmanuel Todd, decries the murdered cartoonists of Charlie Hebdo as the real purveyors of “religious hatred”, apparently instead of the two men who gunned them down in January, and describes the “Je suis Charlie” phenomenon as a kind of “hysteria”. The Wall Street Journal is aptly scathing, referring to the work as “Part shallow excavation of France’s Catholic past and part unhinged polemic… [a] revisionist account of the Charlie Hebdo affair…”

For those seeking insight into Charlie Hebdo, Mr. Todd offers almost nothing about the magazine, its ecumenical blasphemy or its staff’s worldview. The names of the murdered cartoonists—Charb, Cabu, Tignous, Wolinski, Honoré—appear nowhere in this book.

… It was Islamist extremism that inflicted psychiatric trauma on French society. To suggest otherwise is—pardon the expression—blasphemy.


Salman Rushdie at the Frankfurt Book Fair (the one Iran didn’t want him to go to, as we reported last week) took the opportunity to describe new threats to freedom of expression in the west. Reuters reports:

Violence against writers and a misplaced sense of political correctness pose new dangers to freedom of speech in the West, writer Salman Rushdie said on Tuesday.

… “It seems to me the battle for free expression was won 100 years ago,” the 68-year-old told an audience at the opening of the Frankfurt Book Fair, under heavy security.

“The fact that we have to go on fighting this battle is the result of a number of regrettable, more recent phenomena.”

… Rushdie criticized restraints on freedom of expression at universities, referring to recent examples in Britain and the United States. “The idea that students should not be intellectually challenged at universities is exactly what we should fight,” he said.

… Rushdie told his audience that all people around the world could relate to stories, so limiting freedom of expression was not just censorship but an assault on human nature.

“It prevents us from being the kind of creatures that we are. It is not something which is specific to one culture. It is something universal to human beings,” he said.

Excommunicated Catholic and queen of pop, Madonna, has been accused of “blasphemous” performance, after a live stage rendition of her track Holy Water, featuring pole-dancing on a cross and dancers dressed as nuns. The lyrics compare her own bodily fluids with “holy water”. BREATHEcast reports:

Madonna cross-dancing

Madonna, cross-dancing

When the striking footage hit the web immediately many took to social media to share their disapproval.

Warning, this escalates quickly:

“I love madonna and her music but this particular performance of holy water crossed the line. Literally Madonna is Lucifer mocking Jesus and the Holy Spirit,” one supporter said.

Gotta love a fan who has failed to spot any previous element of sexual or religious controversy recurring frequently in her decades-long career. Like a Virgin, anyone?!

Just this year in 2015 Madonna’s Grammy performance was pegged as another on-camera “satanic ritual” by Illuminati conspiracy theorists…

The 1989’s hit single “Like A Prayer” was condemned by the Vatican for its disrespectful scenes in the church. Madonna was not put off at all though and as seen in her ‘Rebel Heart Tour’ she has maintained her methods to promote herself and her music. In the past she also emerged out of the stage on a mirrored cross while wearing a crown of thorns.

… “I always feel some kind of inexplicable connection with Catholicism. It kind of shows up in all of my work, as you may have noticed,” she told Rolling Stone.

Here’s a not very good recording of the performance in question.

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Title: The week in “blasphemy” news #37
Date Posted: October 16, 2015
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Category: Round-ups

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