In what can only be described as characterising the levels of Islamic radicalism in Pakistan and the fear with which minorities of the country have to live, two Christian brothers in Pakistan have been awarded death sentence by a district judge in Pakistan. The brothers were sentenced to death after they had been convicted for insulting Prophet Mohammed in articles and portraits posted on their website. The duo was accused of blasphemy for the first time in 2011, but they returned to Pakistan quietly. Amoon, 38, was arrested at the airport while trying to leave the country for the second time and his brother Qaiser, 44, was also arrested.
The accused brothers had been convicted for “use of derogatory remarks in respect of the Holy Prophet”, under the archaic blasphemy provisions of Pakistan’s penal code. The judge who awarded death sentence concluded in his judgment, “The prosecution has proved its case against both the accused beyond the shadow of reasonable doubt.” He then went on to sentence both the convicts to death. The counsel for the Christian brothers said that while the two men had started the website they were not operating it at the time when the offense was committed. It is important to bear in mind that this sentence has come merely two days after the US putting Pakistan on a religious freedom blacklist.
The way the Christian brothers have been sentenced to death may seem bizarre but it is not uncommon in Pakistan. In 2010, it had led to an international outcry after Asia Bibi was sentenced to death on blasphemy charges. She was later acquitted of the said crime following an international outcry. Since 2011, a total of around 100 blasphemy cases have been registered. Moreover, around 40 people are waiting for the death sentences to be executed or are serving imprisonment for life.
When it comes to the issue of blasphemy, it is not only the Pakistani law which is archaic but the country at large faces this issue. In fact, several blasphemy cases never actually go to the court. Since 1990, at least 62 people have been murdered by the vigilantes on account of blasphemy allegations without the cases actually going to trial before the court. Nasir Saeed, Director of the Centre for Legal Aid Assistance and Settlement charity said, “This is a very unfortunate situation as because of threats from hardliners lower courts pass their responsibility to the higher court and then it takes years to prove the accused innocent.” This is a serious allegation pointing towards the influence that Islamic hardliners wield in Pakistan.
The ironic fact is that merely a couple of days after the Christian brothers were sentenced to death, Pakistan’s Prime Minister, Imran Khan went on to claim that his government is taking steps to make sure that religious minorities in Pakistan get their due rights, carrying forward the vision of Pakistan’s founder Mohammed Ali Jinnah. One wonders if religious intolerance and awarding death sentences on the basis of blasphemy allegations is how Pakistan proposes to protect its minorities. Imran Khan had also said, “We will show the Modi government how to treat minorities… Even in India, people are saying that minorities are not being treated as equal citizens.” But the way the Christian brothers have been sentenced to death and the way minorities have been maltreated in Pakistan, only shows that India and its minority communities are better off under the Modi government and the incumbent government need not take any cue from a country like Pakistan.