Crackdown on Christianity expected if Muslim nations enforce Blasphemy laws
After waiting behind bars for four months, 37-year-old Asia Bibi of Pakistan stood recently before a judge in Sheikhupura, where she is accused of blaspheming Muhammad for allegedly saying, "Jesus is alive. Muhammad is dead."
She is charged under section 295-C of the Pakistani Criminal Code, which says, "Use of derogatory remarks, etc; in respect of the Holy Prophet. Whoever by words, either spoken or written or by visible representation, or by any imputation, innuendo, or insinuation, directly or indirectly, defiles the sacred name of the Hole Prophet Mohammed (PBUH) shall be punished with death, or imprisonment for life, and shall also be liable to fine."
Her case, which was continued until another hearing, is typical of a higher level of attacks on Christianity a nation under increasing influence from the Taliban and al-Qaida.
According to sources for Voice of the Martyrs, Bibi was allowed to spend 15 minutes with her husband, Ashiq Masih, their two daughters and the VOM representative before her court appearance.
She told VOM she prays every day at 3 a.m.
"I thank God that the jail administration has good behavior with me. I don't have trouble from them, but I miss my daughters and family. Please arrange my soon release from this jail," she said.
"Asia is strong in her faith," VOM representatives said.
International Christian Concern's Pakistan analyst Jonathan Racho says the penal code is extreme.
"If I say that as a Christian, I don't believe Muhammad is a prophet of God, the state of Pakistan is saying that I should be killed," he said.
"Pakistani law limits my ability to talk about what I believe," he explained. "The Pakistani penal code is literally against the United Nations Charter of Human Rights which says I should have freedom of religious expression."
The ICC Pakistani analyst went a step further, "If anyone communicates the Gospel message in Pakistan, that person is automatically going against the Pakistani state. That's what Pakistan says with their criminal code."
Some nations are attempting to persuade Pakistan to repeal the volatile parts of the criminal code. The U. S. State Department issued a 2008 report that was critical of Pakistan's human rights record, the British Foreign Office has issued statements addressing Pakistan's human rights record and Canada has also come out strongly in favor of strong human rights enforcement.
However, Animesh Roul, the president of the Society for the Study of Peace and Conflict in New Delhi, India, said Western nations have a major obstacle in being able to persuade the Pakistani government.
"It's not an exaggeration to say that Pakistan and the other groups vying for control (in Pakistan) don't really want the United States or any Western nation intervening in what they're doing," he said.
The Taliban's fight for control of Pakistan is making relations with Pakistan more difficult. Aaron Mannes of Counterterrorismblog.org believes the situation will only get more turbulent.
"As the number of Taliban-type groups increases, they will continue to leave a string of human rights abuses in their wake against women, those who don't share their world view and religious minorities," he said.
Now the troubled nation even is trying to expand the influence of its blasphemy provisions.
"The Pakistani government is attempting to use the United Nations Commission on Human Rights to further Islam," said Racho. "They want the U.N. to put their blasphemy provision into the U.N.'s charter on human rights."
He warned that ultimately would mean "any nation that subscribes to the U.N. Charter on Human Rights will also have to enforce the blasphemy laws against Muhammad.
"This means that the Gospel will be illegal according to international law,” he said.
According to a statement from the United Nations Commission on Human Rights, Pakistan has also been debating the adoption of full Islamic law. The Wilson Center's Bhumitra Chakma and the American Enterprise Institute's Michael Rubin only see the Taliban and other groups continuing to gain influence in Pakistan’s internal operations.
Michael Rubin, the AEI's Central Asian expert, said Pakistan quickly is becoming a "human rights cesspool."
He was commenting on another case, involving Pakistani Christian Nadia Iftikhar, 11, who was beaten by her Muslim head teacher.
Racho said the teacher was quoting from a textbook that read, "We are Pakistanis and all of us are Muslims."
Nadia replied that she, too, is Pakistani but is Christian.
"That made the teacher very mad at her. The teacher was so mad that she grabbed a bamboo stick and began thrashing the girl in a very barbarian way," Racho said.
"As she continued to beat the girl the teacher yelled, 'All Pakistanis are Muslims. You are not a Pakistani if you are a Christian!'" he said. "As the teacher continued to savagely beat Nadia, the teacher yelled, 'If you are a Christian, your homeland is in Europe or in America!'"
The ICC Pakistan analyst added that there is a clear implication in the teacher's actions and words. Since the teacher was quoting from an official Pakistani history textbook, the education and legal systems in Pakistan make no room for alternative religious and cultural views.
The 11-year-old is recovering from her injuries.
WND also reported only days ago that a Pakistani judge had released six more suspects in a series of attacks on Christians in Gojra, Pakistan.
The suspects are accused of the murders of 11 Christians and with burning down more than 40 Christian-owned houses in Gojra.
The action follows last month's order by a Lahore judge releasing 13 other suspects in the case.
WND also reported recently when the European Center for Law and Justice filed a petition with the U.N.'s special rapporteur seeking prosecutions in Pakistan for those responsible for the attacks and killings of Christians.
"We have expressed in the strongest terms possible that the Pakistani government must prosecute acts of violence based upon religion," said Jay Sekulow, chief counsel for the organization, as well as the U.S.-based American Center for Law and Justice.
"Christians are being singled out and murdered because of their faith. Only when the Pakistani government effectively prosecutes those responsible for the acts of violence will attacks against Christians end," he said.
The ECLJ is seeking for the U.N. to call on Pakistan to prosecute those guilty of the deadly attacks on Christians, which have claimed the lives of at least 60 Christians in recent years.