Published on 29 July 2020 in Blasphemy news
The End Blasphemy Laws (EBL) coalition is concerned about reports of the Punjab Curriculum and Textbook Board’s decision to ban 100 textbooks used in private schools for their allegedly ‘blasphemous’ and ‘anti-Pakistan’ content.
According to media reports, the Punjab Curriculum and Textbook Board is currently reviewing a further 10,000 books used in private schools, as they have not been scrutinised previously. The Board’s Managing Director Rai Manzoor Husain Nasir is quoted as having said, “the banned textbooks could be in thousands once we are done.” The authorities reportedly plan to visit private schools when they are reopened again to check whether these books are still being used.
Nasir reportedly argued that Section 10 of the Punjab Curriculum Textbook Board Act of 2015 allows him to ban materials that are incompatible with the teachings of Islam. One of the books had reportedly used pictures of pigs when explaining counting concepts, an animal considered to be haram, i.e. impure and forbidden.
The EBL coalition is worried about what appears to be a growing trend of stifling freedoms of thought or opinion and religion or belief in Pakistan. In June 2020, the Punjab Assembly ordered through a resolution that the government bans several books believed to contain ‘blasphemous’ content. Further, it has been reported that, on 22 July 2020, the Punjab Assembly had passed the Punjab Tahaffuz-e-Bunyad-e-Islam Bill 2020, which outlaws the publication content deemed as ‘objectionable’. The Bill will only enter into law upon the signature of the Governor.
While ‘blasphemy’ laws are used in all regions of Pakistan, ‘blasphemy’ laws are predominantly used in Punjab. According to Humanists International’s Humanists at Risk: Action Report 2020, ‘blasphemy’ laws have been utilized as a tool to systematically discriminate against non-believers and other minorities in Pakistan.
In June 2020, EBL coalition partner, Humanists International, reported on two professors who were facing accusations of ‘blasphemy’. Professor Soomro was arrested from his home on charges of having violated Article 295 A of the Pakistani Penal Code, criminalizing insulting religion or religious beliefs. Dr. Arfanah Mallah has faced threats for condemning the use of ‘blasphemy’ laws. There have been calls for Mallah to face charges for ‘blasphemy’ and an aggressive social media campaign calling for her to be killed.
‘Blasphemy’ is punishable by death in Pakistan, and accusations are often followed by brutal mob violence with fatal consequences. The newest example of this is from 29 July 2020, when Tahir Ahmad Naseem, standing trial for accusations of ‘blasphemy’, was shot dead in a courtroom. According to media reports, Naseem was shot six times during a court hearing in the city of Peshawar, in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province. A police official has stated that the culprit killed Naseem for committing ‘blasphemy’ when he claimed that he was a prophet.
The book ban introduced by the Punjab Curriculum and Textbook Board is just the latest example of the authorities deciding to protect religion and religious beliefs instead of protecting the rights to freedom of opinion and expression, violating its international obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights to which Pakistan is a State Party. The End Blasphemy Laws Coalition calls on the Pakistani authorities to adhere to its obligations under international law and also repeal its ‘blasphemy’ laws.