By Sabena Siddiqi

Blasphemy laws exist in America and European countries too since hundreds of years ,remember how fond they were of burning witches at the stake etc . Almost all European and other countries have Blasphemy Laws–though they are not used to prosecute. In place of or in addition to prohibitions against blasphemy, some countries have laws which give redress to those who feel insulted on account of their religion. In place of blasphemy or in addition to blasphemy in some European countries is the crime of religious insult”. A religious insult is forbidden in Andorra, Cyprus, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Spain, Finland, Germany, Greece, Iceland, Italy, Lithuania, Norway, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Russian Federation, Slovakia, Switzerland, Turkey and Ukraine.

These laws forbid hate speech, the vilification of religion, or “religious insult”. A prosecution for blasphemy in the United States would fail as a violation of the U.S. Constitution. The First Amendment to the United States Constitution provides:
“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press . . . .” It should be noted, however, that the United States and some individual state jurisdictions provide for stronger criminal penalties for crimes when committed against a person because of that person’s religious affiliation. For instance, Section 3 A1.1 of the 2009 United States Sentencing Guidelines states that: “If the finder of fact at trial or, in the case of a plea of guilty or nolo contendere, the court at sentencing determines beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant intentionally selected any victim or any property as the object of the offense of conviction because of the actual or perceived race, color, religion, national origin, ethnicity, gender, disability, or sexual orientation of any person,” the sentencing court is required to increase the standard sentencing range. Massachusetts, Michigan, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Wyoming, and Pennsylvania have laws that make reference to blasphemy. Some US states still have blasphemy laws on the books from the founding days.

In Europe, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe has recommended that countries enact laws that protect the freedom of expression.

The point remains that there are limits to Free speech. In fact when British Muslims tried to invoke the UK Blasphemy Law, the courts there decided that British Blasphemy Laws only protected Christianity and other religions remained unprotected.

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There is a limit to ‘free speech ‘ in the British High Commission “The Abuse and Vilification (religious invective) Order No. 43 of 1929”. The order contained the language: “Any person who utters a word or sound in public or within earshot of any other person that may be or is intended to offend his religious sensitivities or faith can expect to be found guilty and eligible for a one-year jail sentence.” A vast dichotomy exists when you view the topic of Blasphemy Law in parallel with laws against Holocaust-denial .

Holocaust denial, the denial of the systematic genocidal killing of millions of Jews by Nazi Germany in the 1930s and 1940s, is illegal in a number of European countries. Many countries also have broader laws that criminalize genocide denial. Of the countries that ban Holocaust denial, a number (Austria, Germany, Hungary, and Romania) were among the perpetrators of the Holocaust, and many of these also ban other elements associated with Nazism, such as Nazi symbols. Holocaust denial laws are in place in seven countries, including Germany, France and Austria. The denial of the Holocaust (or the denial of genocide) is prohibited, in various ways, in at least ten European States. There is no uniformity in the legislation on the subject and there are different emphases in each of the States according to the nature of the offense (administrative or criminal), the trial process and the punishment. There are States in which the denial of genocide in general is an offence and there are those in which reference is explicitly to the denial of the genocide perpetrated by the Nazis. But such laws would be a big departure for Britain, where a risk of fomenting public disorder is needed before a thought becomes a crime. Britain has mostly avoided EU moves to make denying or trivializing Nazi atrocities a criminal offence Holocaust denial is not expressly illegal in Switzerland, but the denial of genocide and other crimes against humanity is an imprisonable offence. In 1992, the United Nations declared that antisemitism must be recognized as a danger that must be fought against by legal means. In its official declaration of November 2004, the organizations called on the organization and its members to struggle against racism and included a demand to combat antisemitism. It is illegal to question the Holocaust or ‘crimes perpetrated by Communists ‘ in most of these advanced nations .Genocide is still a term in use for whenever it harmed Western interests but not vice versa .

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Holocaust denial is generally viewed as ‘anti Semitic’ but Blasphemy laws are ‘draconian’ at the worst and ‘frivolous ‘ at the least for the same audience .There is a limit to the permissible freedom of speech there . I have tried to present facts clinically and factually .

‘Countries should repeal all laws punishing blasphemy and people who leave a faith ‘, the United Nations’ top expert on freedom of religion said on Wednesday, thrusting himself into a debate between many in the Muslim world and the West.

Blasphemy law is also necessary and should be there like in every other Islamic state .No Muslim can disagree on this ,anyhow it should be properly and thoroughly investigated etc. It should not be used to blackmail or scare anybody .Extremism is not approved in Islam and a moderate path is advocated and preferred. The Pakistan Penal Code prohibits blasphemy against any recognised religion Pakistan has the anti-blasphemy laws in Chapter XV of Pakistan Penal Code,it deals with “offences relating to religion” §295. Injuring or defiling place of worship, with intent to insult the religion of any class. §295-A. Deliberate and malicious acts intended to outrage religious feelings of any class by insulting Its religion or religious beliefs. §295-B. Defiling, etc., of Holy Qur’an. §295-C. Use of derogatory remarks, etc., in respect of the Holy Prophet.

§296. Disturbing religious assembly. §297. Trespassing on burial places, etc §298. Uttering words, etc., with deliberate intent to wound religious feelings. §298-A. Use of derogatory remarks, etc., in respect of holy personages.

§298-B. Misuse of epithets, descriptions and titles, etc., reserved for certain holy personages or places §298-C. Person of Qadiani group, etc., calling himself a Muslim or preaching or propagating his faith:

Pakistan’s Penal Code Section dates back to pre-partition India when it was introduced in 1860. Section 295, better known as the Blasphemy Law, deals with religious offences. The law that is meant for countering misuse of the Blasphemy law is PPC 153 A (a), whoever “by words, either spoken or written, or by signs, or by visible representations or otherwise, promotes or incites, or attempts to promote or incite, on grounds of religion, race, place of birth, residence, language, caste or community or any other ground whatsoever, disharmony or feelings of enmity, hatred or ill-will between different religious, racial, language or regional groups or castes or communities” shall be fined and punished with imprisonment for a term that may extend to five years.

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The blasphemy laws include a death penalty for the defamation of the Holy Prophet and life imprisonment for the desecration of the Holy Quran.However, the death sentence has never been implemented.

By its constitution, the official name of Pakistan is the “Islamic Republic of Pakistan.” More than 96% of Pakistan’s 167 million citizens (2008) are Muslims. The first purpose of those laws is to protect Islamic authority. By the constitution (Article 2), Islam is the state religion. By the constitution’s Article 31, it is the country’s duty to foster the Islamic way of life. By Article 33, it is the country’s duty to discourage parochial, racial, tribal, sectarian, and provincial prejudices among the citizens.

Pakistan has been an active supporter of the campaign by the Organisation of the Islamic Conference to create global laws against blasphemy. Muslims feel victimised all over the world by a general attitude objecting on everything pertaining to Islam and some making obscene comments on Rasul Allah while Muslims never do similar things .

Mutual tolerance is the key , we respect Christian and Jewish thought and religion. Moses and Christ are our Prophets too ,so please respect our Holy Prophet also. Blasphemy law is there to make sure a modicum of respect is maintained within Pakistan an Islamic Republic.

[author] [author_image timthumb=’on’][/author_image] [author_info]Sabena Siddiqui is a Lawyer and a social activist, observer at large. She has been doing welfare work in Karachi with a great commitment and courage.[/author_info] [/author]