Blasphemy law and religious minorities

A Hindu temple in Karachi.

I arrived in Karachi this week, where I’ll be reporting from until the end of the year. I’ve spent the majority of the last few days adjusting to the 35 degree heat. But I also wrote a piece for the New Statesman, about an interesting development for Pakistan’s notorious blasphemy laws. After an attack on a Hindu temple in Karachi, police have taken the unusual step of registering blasphemy charges against the perpetrators, who were all Muslims.

Of course, this case does not represent a sea-change in attitudes just yet. For a start, no one has been charged, or even arrested. But it was a positive move by local police, if only because Pakistan’s religious minorities are frequently too frightened to speak out at all. Numbering about four per cent of the population, this small minority of Christians, Hindus and Islamic sects such as the Ahmadis (regarded as non-Muslims) translates to nearly ten million people, the equivalent of the population of Tunisia. It is not an insignificant number.

The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) has offered measured support for the move, with the chair, Zohra Yusuf, saying that she has never heard of another blasphemy case registered against Muslims for damaging a house of worship. However, she pointed out that blasphemy laws are never used when Ahmadi houses of worship are attacked, as the often are. Four attacks on churches in Karachi earlier this year have also gone unpunished.

To read the full piece, visit my New Statesman blog. A version also appears in the print magazine this week. Here’s the cutting:

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