Asia Bibi, a Christian farm labourer from Pakistan, has been in solitary confinement for most of the past 9 years. She was sentenced to death in 2010, based on a ‘blasphemy’ accusation made by some of her Muslim neigbours. The neighbours had objected to her drinking from the same water source and reportedly pressured her into making a ‘confession’.
Earlier today, the supreme court in Pakistan finally overturned the conviction. It’s worth looking in detail at the background to the case, the powerful final judgement, and what it may mean for the future.
It has taken the Mauritanian legal system four long, arduous years to hand down a sentence of two years prison and a fine to Mauritian blogger, Mohamed Cheikh Ould M’kheitir.
M’kheitir’s troubles began in 2014 when he was detained for writing an article about caste discrimination and religion, comparing the status of so-called “low caste” Mauritanians (like himself) to those enslaved during the time of the prophet Mohammed.
He was accused of blasphemy for ‘insulting Mohammed’ and of ‘apostasy’ (i.e. leaving Islam). He was sentenced to death in December 2014 by the Criminal Court.
Following quickly on from Malta and Denmark, it now looks like Canada is about to repeal its antiquated “blasphemy” law!
Yesterday (Tuesday 6 June) the Canadian government tabled Bill C-51 (2017): an act to amend parts of the Criminal Code and other laws. One of the objectives of the bill is to remove “obsolete and/or redundant provisions” of the Canadian Criminal Code, including section 296 – which criminalizes “blasphemous libel”.
Today, Friday 2 June, the Danish parliament has voted to end centuries of “blasphemy” law!
Rumours had been confirmed earlier this week that the ruling ‘Venstre’ party would join other parties including the socialist opposition ‘Enhedslisten’, which proposed the abolition, in voting for an abolition, making this morning’s vote more or less a done deal.
The “blasphemy” law was abolished by a majority of 75 – 27.
An attempt to repeal the outdated “blasphemy” law in New Zealand has been derailed.
The existence of the laws was apparently only made known to some parliamentary and government officials earlier this month, following the publicity over an investigation into British celebrity Stephen Fry in the Republic of Ireland.
That was quick!
Even as the world responded to news that Stephen Fry was being investigated for “blasphemy” in Ireland yesterday, the Gardaí (Irish police) decided to drop the probe because they couldn’t find a large enough group of people outraged by the comments.
Meanwhile, the coverage apparently alerted senior officials in New Zealand to the existence of their own “blasphemy” law, and the prime minister then pledged to abolish it!
The outgoing governor of Jakarta, Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, usually known as ‘Ahok’, has been sentenced to two years in jail for criminal “blasphemy”.
The governor of the capital city of Indonesia, world’s most populous Muslim country, had previously been highly popular. But he was due to stand down later in 2017 after having lost the governorship election last month, following a vicious campaign against him for alleged “blasphemy”.
A police investigation has been announced into an interview segment on RTÉ, the public service broadcaster of the Republic of Ireland, which featured the British comedian and actor Stephen Fry.
Ireland passed a new “blasphemy” law in 2009, making it the only developed country to have introduced “blasphemy” as a criminal offence in the twenty-first century.