Blasphemy law in Pakistan

The Pakistan Penal Code, the main criminal code of Pakistan, punishes blasphemy (Urdu: قانون توہین رسالت‎) against any recognized religion, providing penalties ranging from a fine to death. From 1967 to 2014, over 1,300 people have been accused of blasphemy, with Muslims constituting most of those accused.[1]

Many people accused of blasphemy have been murdered before their trials were over,[2][3] and prominent figures who opposed the blasphemy law have been assassinated.[1] Since 1990, 62 people have been murdered following blasphemy allegations.[4]

According to one religious minority source, an accusation of blasphemy commonly exposes the accused, police, lawyers, and judges to harassment, threats, attacks and rioting.[5] Critics complain that Pakistan's blasphemy laws are "overwhelmingly being used to persecute religious minorities and settle personal vendettas,"[6] but calls for change in blasphemy laws have been strongly resisted by Islamic parties - most prominently the Barelvi school of Islam.[4]

Pakistan's blasphemy laws became particularly severe between 1980 and 1986, when a number of clauses were added by the military government of General Zia-ul Haq, to "Islamicise" the laws to deny the Muslim character of the Ahmadi minority.[1] Before 1986, only 14 cases of blasphemy were reported.[2] Parliament through the Second Amendment to the Constitution on 7 September 1974, under Prime Minister Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, declared Ahmadi Muslims as non-Muslims.[7] In 1986 it was supplemented by a new blasphemy provision also applied to Ahmadi Muslims (See Persecution of Ahmadis).[8][9]

Cases under blasphemy law have also been registered against Muslims who have harassed non-Muslims.[10][11][12]


By its constitution, the official name of Pakistan is the "Islamic Republic of Pakistan" as of 1956. More than 96% of Pakistan's 167 million citizens (2008) are Muslims.[13] Among countries with a Muslim majority, Pakistan has the strictest anti-blasphemy laws. 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.[14] Under Article 10A of constitution it is also the state's duty to provide for the right of fair trial.[15]


Religion-related offences on the territory of modern Pakistan were first codified by the British Raj in 1860, and were expanded in 1927.[16] Pakistan inherited that legislation when it gained independence after the partition of India in 1947.[16] Several sections of Pakistan's Penal Code comprise its blasphemy laws.[17]

Religious offences and punishments[]

PPC Description Penalty
§ 298 Uttering of any word or making any sound or making any gesture or placing of any object in the sight with the deliberate intention of wounding the religious feelings of any person. 1 years imprisonment, or fine, or both
§ 298A Use of derogatory remarks etc., in respect of holy personages. 1980 3 years imprisonment, or fine, or both
§ 298B
(Ahmadi blasphemy law) Misuse of epithets, descriptions and titles etc., reserved for certain holy personages or places, by Ahmadis. 26 April 1984 3 years imprisonment and fine
§ 298C
(Ahmadi blasphemy law) Aka Ordinance XX: f a Muslim, or preaching or propagating his faith, or "in any manner whatsoever" outraging the religious feelings of Muslims, or posing himself as a Muslim. 26 April 1984 3 years imprisonment and fine
§ 295 Injuring or defiling places of worship, with intent to insult the religion of any class Up to 2 years imprisonment or fine, or both
§ 295A Deliberate and malicious acts intended to outrage religious feelings of any class by insulting its religion or religious beliefs. 1927[18] Up to 10 years imprisonment, or fine, or both
§ 295B Defiling, etc., of Quran. 1982[19] Imprisonment for life
§ 295C Use of derogatory remarks, spoken, written, directly or indirectly, etc. defiles the name of Muhammad or other Prophet(s) 1986 Mandatory Death and fine (Feb. 1990[20])

Trial must take place in a Court of Session with a Muslim judge presiding.[21]

Except for § 295-C, the provisions of § 295 require that an offence be a consequence of the accused's intent. (See below Sharia.)

§ 298 states:

Whoever, with the deliberate intention of wounding the religious feelings of any person, utters any word or makes any sound in the hearing of that person or makes any gesture in the sight of that person or places any object in the sight of that person, shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to one year, or with fine, or with both.

Between 1986 and 2007, Pakistani authorities charged 647 people with blasphemy offences.[22] Fifty percent of these were non-Muslims, who represent only 3% of the national population.[22] No judicial execution for blasphemy has ever occurred in Pakistan,[23][24] but 20 of those charged were murdered.[22][25]

The only law that may be useful in 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.

On 12 January 2011, Prime Minister of Pakistan Yousuf Raza Gilani once again said that there would be no amendments to the blasphemy law.[26]


The Federal Shariat Court (FSC) is a religious body which rules on whether any particular law is repugnant to the injunctions of Islam. If a law is repugnant to Islam, "the President in the case of a law with respect to a matter in the Federal Legislative List or the Concurrent Legislative List, or the Governor in the case of a law with respect to a matter not enumerated in either of those Lists, shall take steps to amend the law so as to bring such law or provision into conformity with the Injunctions of Islam" (Constitution, Article 203D). In October 1990, the FSC ruled that § 295-C was repugnant to Islam by permitting life imprisonment as an alternative to a death sentence. The Court said "the penalty for contempt of the Holy Prophet ... is death."[27][28] The FSC ruled that, if the President did not take action to amend the law before 30 April 1991, then § 295-C would stand amended by its ruling.

Promptly after the FSC's ruling in 1990, Bishop Dani L. Tasleem filed an appeal in the Supreme Court of Pakistan, which has the power to overrule the FSC. In April 2009, the Shariat Appellate Bench of the Supreme Court considered the appeal. Deputy Attorney-General Agha Tariq Mehmood, who represented the federal government, said that the Shariat Appellate Bench dismissed the appeal because the appellant did not pursue it. The appellant did not present any argument on the appeal because the appellant, according to reports, was no longer alive. Consequently, it appears to be the law in Pakistan that persons convicted under § 295-C must be sentenced to death with or without a fine.[29]


Those who are accused of blasphemy may be subject to harassment, threats, and attacks. Police, lawyers, and judges may also be subject to harassment, threats, and attacks when blasphemy is an issue.[30][31] Those accused of blasphemy are subject to immediate incarceration, and most accused are denied bail to forestall mob violence.[28][30] It is common for those accused of blasphemy to be put in solitary confinement for their protection from other inmates and guards. Like those who have served a sentence for blasphemy, those who are acquitted of blasphemy usually go into hiding or leave Pakistan.[24][30][32]

Death of Mashal Khan[]

Mashal Khan (Urdu: ماشال خان‎) was a Pakistani student at the Abdul Wali Khan University Mardan who was killed by an angry mob in the premises of the university in April 2017 over allegations of posting blasphemous content online.[33][34][35]

United Nations[]

Pakistan's support of blasphemy laws has caused it to be active in the international arena in promoting global limitations on freedom of religion or belief and limitations on freedom of expression. In March 2009, Pakistan presented a resolution to the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva which calls upon the world to formulate laws against the defamation of religion.[30] See blasphemy.

Internet censorship[]

In May 2010, Pakistan blocked access to Facebook because the website hosted a page called Everybody Draw Muhammad Day. Pakistan lifted the block after Facebook prevented access to the page. In June 2010, Pakistan blocked seventeen websites for hosting content that the authorities considered offensive to Muslims. At the same time, Pakistan began to monitor the content of Google, Yahoo, YouTube, Amazon, MSN, Hotmail, and Bing.[36][37]

Public opinion[]

Anti-Pakistani blasphemy law protest in Bradford, England (2014).

On 19 March 2014, The Nation polled its readers and later reported that 68% of Pakistanis believe the blasphemy law should be repealed.[38] On the other hand, the International Crisis Group reports that

... the Islamic parties are most successful in galvanising street power when the goal is narrowly linked to obstructing reforms to discriminatory religious laws that often provoke sectarian violence and conflict and undermine the rule of law and constitutionalism.[39]

Pakistani human rights activists say that because there is no punishment for making a false accusation, charges of blasphemy are being used to harass minorities and settle personal conflicts.[40]

Selected cases[]

Arrests and death sentences issued for blasphemy laws in Pakistan go back to the late 1980s and early 90s. Despite the implementation of these laws, no one has yet been executed by the order of the courts or governments as to date, only imprisoned to await a verdict or killed at the hands of felons who were convinced that the suspects were guilty.[41][42]

Some of the widely reported cases were:

See also[]


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Further reading[]