What do the laws say?
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.
295 A – Deliberate and malicious acts intended to outrage religious feelings of any class by insulting its religion or religious beliefs. Up to 10 years imprisonment, or fine, or both.
295B – Defiling, etc. of Quran. Imprisonment for life.
295C – Use of derogatory remarks, spoken, written, directly or indirectly, etc. defiles the name of Prophet Muhammad. Mandatory Death and fine. Trial must take place in a Court of Session with a Muslim judge presiding.
Who is affected by the laws?
Critics say the fact that minorities figure so prominently in the cases shows how the laws are unfairly applied. Often the laws are used to settle personal scores and have little or nothing to do with religion.
The mere accusation of blasphemy is enough to make someone a target for hardliners, as is defending those accused of blasphemy or calling for the laws to be reformed.
Do most Pakistanis support the laws?
A large majority of Pakistani people support the idea that blasphemers should be punished, but there is little understanding of what the religious scripture says as opposed to how the modern-day law is codified.
Many believe the law, as codified by the military regime of General Zia-ul Haq back in the 1980s, is in fact straight out of the Koran and therefore is not man-made.
Why do the authorities not amend them?
Amending the blasphemy laws has been on the agenda of nearly all the popular secular parties. But none of them has made much progress – principally because of the sensitivities over the issue, but also because no major party wants to antagonise the religious parties.
In 2010, a member of the ruling Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), Sherry Rehman, introduced a private bill to amend the blasphemy law. Her bill sought to change procedures of religious offences so that they would be reported to a higher police official and the cases heard directly by the higher courts.
The bill was passed on to a parliamentary committee for vetting. It was withdrawn in February 2011 under pressure from religious forces as well as some opposition political groups.