Bahawalpur-500Bahawalpur, Pakistan – the image is of the Derawar FortICLA welcomes the decision of the court that acquitted Barkat Masih in Bahawalpur, Pakistan.  Mr Mashih had been falsely accused of blasphemy in 2011.  The Pakistani authorities should be commended for arriving at this decision.  Such decisions are incredibly rare in the Pakistan, but we hope that this decision is an indication that the Pakistani legal system is moving forward.  However, the story that was published by Pakistan Today demonstrates how the very existence of blasphemy laws leads to abuse, intimidation, and outright persecution of minorities.  This is why ICLA is completely opposed to blasphemy laws of any kind.

The Pakistan Today article focuses on how blasphemy laws can be misused.  However, ICLA’s concern is less about how blasphemy laws can be misused and more about how they are allowed to exist at all.  Blasphemy laws are a misuse of the law itself.  They are designed to impose the views of elites and to prevent any social developments that are a threat to the interests of such elites.  They are an instrument of control and coercion that is unacceptable in any society that calls itself free and open minded.  That fact that such laws are based on religion does not give them any moral legitimacy. 

Blasphemy laws have much in common with political correctness.  That is perhaps the reason why Western elites seem so enamoured by them.  Laws that are difficult to defend against are the perfect tools of the bullies and tyrants who frequently walk the corridors of power.  Is this why Western political leaders seem so willing to acquiesce with demands from the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) to institute a global blasphemy law?  Such leaders are effectively saying that the misery that blasphemy laws inflict upon people like Barkat Masih is a price worth paying if it means more power and wealth for them!  How much Saudi oil money has been used to grease the wheels of blasphemy legislation in the Western world?  The hypocrisy of Western leaders knows no bounds!  Calls for a global blasphemy law from the OIC and the support for them by Western elites now means that blasphemy laws are perhaps the greatest threat to civil liberties and human rights in the world today. 

The case of Barkat Masih shows how blasphemy laws can be used to hound an innocent man, make him fear for his life and cause him to incur potentially crippling legal expense.  It shows how even legal practitioners can be intimidated if they decide to represent someone accused of blasphemy.  The right to legal representation is a fundamental requirement for justice yet blasphemy laws encourage even that to be withdrawn merely on the basis of unsubstantiated allegation.  This shows how such laws can be used to undermine the rule of law.

It is quite clear that blasphemy laws are based on religious intolerance when they are applied to those who do not follow a particular religion.  They are thus a potential instrument of ethnic or religious ‘cleansing’ and general persecution.  They must therefore be resolutely opposed on human rights grounds both in countries into which they seek to expand as well as in those countries where they are already entrenched.

When blasphemy laws or other freedom sapping legislation become ingrained in society they develop a life of their own.  The case of Barkat Masih as outlined in the Pakistan Today article demonstrates the potential for mob violence even though a court has found him innocent.  Even after running the gauntlet of a legal system heavily stacked against him he is still potentially in danger.  This is the sort of lawlessness that blasphemy laws bring with them.  This is another reason why they should be opposed.

No religion, philosophy, ideology or belief system should be protected by the law.  Any belief system that requires state protection is one that is built on very shaky foundations.  If a belief system cannot stand the scrutiny of debate then it has no real legitimacy.

ICLA will watch the situation in places like Pakistan with great interest.  It will also monitor the efforts of the OIC to spread its tools of religious persecution.  It will oppose the creation of blasphemy laws in Western and non-Western countries alike.  The 21st Century should be a century in which human rights are expanded and not reduced.  Blasphemy laws and any secular laws that mimic them will be opposed by ICLA.

 The International Civil Liberties Alliance (ICLA) is a human rights organisation that aims to uphold democracy, freedom and individual liberties.

The Alliance does so through endorsing, coordinating and promoting education and campaigns conducted by its members, in the spirit of classical liberalism. ICLA and its members will educate the general public about the significance of the inalienable rights of individuals, and how these are subtly underlined or openly challenged by political and religious forces.