“Death and Only Death”: Asia Bibi’s Prosecutor on the Only Appropriate Punishment for Blasphemers

There are not many countries in the world where ‘blasphemy laws’ are more severely abused than Pakistan. Innocent people are frequently accused of committing blasphemy and held in detention for months, sometimes years, before ever seeing the inside of a courtroom. When they eventually reach the courtroom, the sentencing can take place in a matter of minutes, with almost no evidence. 

If they are fortunate enough to be acquitted, they face public exile at best and the threat of death from their community at worst, whether innocent or not. 

The law says that any “derogatory remarks, etc, in respect of the Holy Prophet [Muhammad] either spoken or written, or by visible representation, or by any imputation, innuendo or insinuation, directly or indirectly shall be punished with death, or imprisonment for life, and shall also be liable to fine”.

One of the lawyers at the forefront of this effort to use blasphemy laws to their full effect is Ghulam Mustafa Chaudhry. He heads up an an organisation called The Movement For the Finality of the Prophet, credited with causing a spike in blasphemy cases in the past 15 years. His mission is to bring blasphemers to justice, by pushing for the death penalty. 

He first made national headlines with Asia Bibi. 

The incident that led to the ‘blasphemy’ accusation occurred in June 2009. Asia Bibi was accused of one simple thing—drinking water from the same cup as Muslims while drawing water from a well. Since she was a Christian, she was ‘unclean’ and therefore could not drink from the same cup as the other Muslim women. An argument ensued and Asia Bibi responded with “I believe in my religion and in Jesus Christ, who died on the cross for the sins of mankind. What did your Prophet Mohammed ever do to save mankind?”

Things quickly escalated and before she knew it, she was spending 9 years on death row before she was eventually acquitted. Ghulam Mustafa Chaudhry fought tirelessly to overturn the verdict and demanded the death penalty, but to no avail. 

When asked “what is the appropriate punishment for blasphemy?” Chaudhry’s answer was, “only death. There is no alternate punishment. Death and only death.”

 

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