ISLAMABAD, Pakistan (BP) — The effectiveness of a Supreme Court of Pakistan ruling that blasphemy laws be reformed to discourage false allegations hinges on the government’s response to the order, said a leader of the International Christian Concern watchdog group.
The three-judge Pakistani bench called for reforms when it upheld the death penalty imposed upon Malik Mohammad Mumtaz Qadri for assassinating in 2011 Punjab Gov. Salman Taseer based on hearsay that Taseer had committed blasphemy.
“In the absence of adequate safeguards against the abuse of the blasphemy law, people falsely accused of the offense suffer irrevocably,” the judgment written Oct. 27 reads, but confirms that the reforms must still protect blasphemy laws.
The ruling “ought to be understood as a call for introducing adequate safeguards against malicious application or use of [the blasphemy law] by motivated persons,” the judges wrote. “If our religion of Islam comes down heavily upon commission of blasphemy then Islam is also very tough against those who level false allegations of a crime.”
William Stark, International Christian Concern regional manager for South Asia, said the judgment has only opened a door to reforms that “Pakistan as a society must take the steps to walk through.”
The government must enact legislation to “combat mob violence and extra-judicial killings,” “create harsh penalties for individuals who file false accusations of blasphemy” and protect mentally ill defendants who may not have had a “deliberate intention to blaspheme,” said Stark.
Pakistan remains a dangerous country for Christians. The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom said in its 2015 annual report that the Pakistani government “failed to protect citizens, minority and majority alike, from sectarian and religiously-motivated violence, and Pakistani authorities have not consistently brought perpetrators to justice or taken action against societal actors who incite violence.”