Libmonster ID: SE-329
Author(s) of the publication: V. V. VOROBYOV

Key wordsPakistanIslamic radicalismAsiya Bibi case. terrorism

The end of 2010 and the first half of 2011 were another period of sharp activation of Islamist forces, which again found the opportunity to pursue an aggressive and offensive policy against the secular and liberal-minded part of society. The immediate impetus for active action was the desire of the radicals to protect and protect the current and most conservative Law on Blasphemy from the threat of its repeal or amendment.

This law of the time of M. Zia-ul-Haq (1977-1988) was particularly criticized among the intelligentsia: it actually served as a tool for judicial persecution and persecution of religious minorities. Thus, during 2007-2010, more than 600 people (mostly representatives of non-Islamic religions)were brought to justice on charges of blasphemy. 1


The case of Asiya Bibi, a Pakistani Christian farmer from the village of Ittanwali in the Shaykhupura district of Punjab province, was particularly resonant. It all started in June 2009. While working in the fields with other women (all of them Muslim) Asia was asked to bring drinking water. She did as she was asked. However, some women refused to drink the water, as it was brought, in their opinion, "wrong" and, therefore, was unclean.

A domestic dispute turned into a conflict. Muslim women complained about Asia to a local mullah, accusing her of insulting the Prophet Muhammad. The accusation of blasphemy turned all local residents against the Christian: an angry crowd broke into the Bibi family home and tried to punish her. The woman was saved from death by the police who arrived in time and took her to the police station for security reasons. However, police soon launched an investigation into Bibi's blasphemy charges, which was followed by her arrest and prosecution under article 295 of the Criminal Code. Asia spent more than a year in prison.


However, her misadventures did not end there. In November 2010, a Shaikhupura court sentenced Bibi to death by hanging. The death sentence was supplemented by a fine of $1,100. If the sentence had been carried out, it would have been the first time in Pakistan's history that a person accused of blasphemy would have been executed by a court order, setting a dangerous precedent.2

The story of Christian Bibi attracted wide public attention not only in the country, but also around the world and for some time became the most discussed topic. Pope Benedict XVI, in a public speech, condemned the court's decision against A. Bibi and called on the Pakistani government to release the convicted woman from custody, as well as to repeal the blasphemy law3.

The Pope's position was shared not only by Western human rights organizations, but also by a very small group of Pakistani liberals.

Sherry Rehman, a member of the National Assembly from the ruling Pakistan Peoples ' Party, submitted a bill to Parliament to amend the blasphemy law. Punjab Governor Salman Taseer personally met with the prisoner in the prison and said that she deserves mercy. Taseer's close friend, President Asif Ali Zardari, ordered a government review on 4. Following the results of the work, the commission concluded that the verdict was groundless and recommended that the president pardon Bibi.

There have been many instances of pardons in the history of Pakistan. Zardari's pardon of Interior Minister Rehman Malik, who was charged with corruption, was still fresh in his mind.

However, the president did not announce a pardon for the Christian woman sentenced to death. The commission's recommendations were rejected. It became clear that the government has no intention of making changes to the Law on Blasphemy. Apparently, the leadership was seriously frightened by the campaign of disobedience organized by Islamist parties in defense of the blasphemy law: on December 24 and December 31, 2010, mass protest demonstrations and strikes were held in several parts of the country at once against any attempts by the authorities to amend the current law. The country was engulfed in a powerful anti-government and that

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it was an even more dangerous, radical Islamist movement. However, the Islamists did not limit their activity to mass anti - government protests and moved to more decisive actions-the elimination of political opponents.


On January 4, 2011, the country was shaken by a tragic event that seriously alarmed not only the Pakistani, but also the world community. Punjab Governor Salman Taseer, one of Asia Bibi's most active defenders, was shot dead by his personal security guard in the exclusive Kohsar Market district of Islamabad.

The governor's killer, 26-year-old Mumtaz Hussain Qadri, who belonged to the Punjab branch of the elite police force, did not resist the police during the arrest. According to the personal confession of the criminal, the reason for the murder of the governor was his speech for pardoning Bibi and harsh criticism of the Blasphemy Law 5.

The world community and the liberal - minded part of Pakistani society were shocked not only by the very fact of Taseer's murder, but also by how it was committed and who committed it.

Taseer's killer is an ordinary ordinary policeman. Despite an initial official claim that Islamist parties and organizations assisted in carrying out the assassination, as well as some kind of criminal conspiracy, there is still no evidence that Qadri belongs to one of these parties and organizations. This means that the crime could have been committed alone, without any help and support from like-minded people, i.e. it was a personal "impulse of the soul" of Qadri.

In this regard, there is a point of view that any other ordinary Pakistani could have been in Qadri's place, outraged by harsh criticism of what seems to him self-evident. Siddiq ul-Farooq, a spokesman for the Pakistan Muslim League, said Taseer would have been killed by someone else if Mumtaz Qadri had not done it. And according to Irfan Siddiqui, a prominent journalist, the assassination of the governor was simply inevitable, given his "extremely liberal views" .6

While Qadri's actions were shocking, the behavior of the other Taseer guards during the murder was equally striking. The bodyguards, trained to react instantly and immediately when danger arose, did not bat an eyelid to prevent the assassination of the governor. This behavior suggested that they were complicit in the crime, and they were also arrested and interrogated.

No less surprising was the reaction of the Pakistani public to the assassination of the governor.

The reaction of Islamist parties and organizations was predictable. Qadri's action was hailed as a Ghazi ("fighter against the infidels"). Mass anti-government demonstrations were held in the financial capital of Pakistan, Karachi, and in a number of cities, demanding the speedy release of the killer from custody, and the imam of one of the most famous mosques in Karachi issued a fatwa against another ardent opponent of the blasphemy law, Sherry Rehman, who was declared "infidel" and "deserving of the death penalty"7 (because ofdue to threats from Islamists, she stopped appearing in public and, as some believe, left the country for a while).


More unexpected was the reaction of the rest of Pakistani society, which had no ties to Islamists.

Mumtaz Qadri's first appearance in court, where he was formally charged, was a rather frightening sight. A large crowd of supporters of the defendant gathered near the courthouse. They greeted Qadri as he entered the courtroom, accompanied by a heavily reinforced police escort: they showered him with rose petals, slapped him on the back, and kissed him on the cheek. On the criminal's way back from the courtroom, one of his passionate fans put a wreath around his idol's neck.

A group of Lahore-based "democracy and freedom of speech" lawyers who were active participants in the anti-government liberal movement in the fall of 2007 were particularly active in expressing support for Qadri.

Qadri's popularity among the educated part of the population was also evidenced by the records of his fans on the Internet. The number of visitors to the page that glorifies the killer S. Tasir as a hero on the social network Facebook has reached almost 2 thousand people. No less revealing was the result of an opinion poll conducted by the Pakistani novelist Hanif Mohammed in Karachi: the majority of citizens did not condemn the murder of the Punjab governor.

All of this serves as evidence of the religious conservatism and radicalism of the general public, which was even more clearly confirmed in the results of an opinion poll published by the Pew Center in the summer of 2010. Thus, the majority of the population sympathizes not with the United States, but with Al-Qaeda and the Taliban, as well as with local terrorist groups such as Lashkar-e-Taiba. More than 80% of the population supports segregation of men and women in the workplace, Sharia punishments for crimes of a criminal nature (stoning for adultery, flogging or amputation of limbs for theft, etc.). 75% of respondents approve of the death penalty for apostasy. 9

Only a small group of progressive-minded people reacted with condemnation to the murder of S. Tasir. A number of journalists gave a negative assessment of the event in their articles and television programs. For example, some newspapers published in English contained articles condemning the growth of religious intolerance in the country. The reaction of human rights organizations, which publicly announced their protest, was also quite predictable.

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Several hundred people gathered outside Taseer's residence in Lahore and at the site of his murder in Islamabad to light a fire in memory of the slain governor. However, they were negligible in comparison with the number of Qadri's supporters.


No sooner had the country recovered from the disturbing events that had shaken it, than another high-profile political assassination took place.

On March 2, 2011, the Central Government's Minister for Minority Affairs, Shahbaz Bhatti, was shot dead in broad daylight on a street in the capital (as in the case of S. Taseer).

The killers, unlike Qadri, managed to escape, but the organizers of the crime became immediately known: pamphlets were scattered at the scene of the crime, signed by the leadership of the Pakistani Taliban and Al-Qaeda, who claimed responsibility for the murder of the minister. Pamphlets calling for the murder of anyone who insults the Prophet Muhammad explained the reason for Bhatti's murder: he criticized the Blasphemy Law, calling it "sinister", for which he was declared a blasphemer by extremists. In addition, Bhatti, a Christian by faith (the only one in the government), was one of the few brave politicians who condemned the court decision against A. Bibi, finding her not guilty, as well as the murder of Taseer.10 Thus, he, like Taseer, took an uncompromising stance against Islamic extremism, for which, in the end, he paid with his life.

Although the assassination of Bhatti drew condemnation from government officials and political figures in Pakistan, none of them dared to criticize the Zia-ulhaq Law, which in fact served as the basis for the assassination attempt on the minister.

Despite the fact that the investigation into the murder of S. Bhatti has not yet reached its final conclusion, its first results, like the trial of Qadri, indicate a rather complicated (as it might seem at first glance) nature of the crime and can only cause concern and excitement among sober-minded citizens of Pakistan. Thus, on May 9, in Karachi, police arrested one of the members of the group that committed the murder of Bhatti. The person arrested, named Abbott, turned out to be a former Christian convert to Islam and then joined the banned extremist Islamist organization Sipah-e-Sahaba. According to investigators, he played a key role in organizing the assassination attempt on the minister.: As a former member of the Christian community, who maintained friendly relations with many people close to Bhatti, he had all the important information about his life. According to the police, the remaining attackers are currently hiding in Singapore, but their identities will be determined soon.11

* * *

The case of Asiya Bibi, as well as the murders of Salman Taseer and Shahbaz Bhatti , is a vivid example of the contamination of Pakistani society by Islamic radicalism imposed from above during the rule of M. Zia-ul-Haq, as well as the violation of the rights and freedoms of religious minorities oppressed by the Muslim majority. According to I. A. Rehman, Secretary-General of the Pakistan Human Rights Commission, 2010 was the most difficult year for religious minorities: the number of attacks on them increased significantly during this year, while the authorities did not show any readiness to protect them12.

The increase in the number of madrasas operating in the country, especially in Islamabad, over the past year 2010 is another worrying sign. The number of higher religious schools in the capital increased from 129 in 2009 to 400 in 2010, according to a report by the Ministry of Home Affairs of Pakistan.

To date, there are about 21 thousand employees in the country. registered madrasas. Most of these educational institutions belong to the followers of the Deoband traditionalist school - spiritual mentors of the Taliban (12 thousand of the total number of madrassas); 6 thousand madrassas belong to the ideological antipode of the Deoband school-Sufi teaching, 1260 madrassas belong to the more moderate Barelvi school, 63 madrassas belong to the Shiite community 13.

The growing number of traditionalist religious schools has alarmed the Government in its fierce battle with the Taliban in the border areas with Afghanistan.

However, as with the reform of the Blasphemy Law, the government, having lost control of the situation in the country, is powerless to change anything. It is unable to resist the rigid Islamism that has been deeply rooted in the minds of the masses since the time of M. Zia-ul-Haq.

As a result, the country is unable to get rid of many remnants of the past that are perceived by the people as "truly Islamic" and prevent the establishment of a more democratic order in Pakistan.

Burke J. 1 Suicide Nation // India Today, 25.01.2011.

Joshua A. 2 Walking the Tightrope on Pakistan's Blasphemy Laws // The Hindu, 01.01.2011.

3 Pope Appeals for "Full Freedom for Asia Bibi" // AsiaNews -

4 Zardari May Pardon Woman Facing Death Sentence // The Peninsula - facing-death-sentence.html

Walsh D. 5 Salmaan Taseer Murder Throws Pakistan into Fresh Crisis // The Guardian -

Joshi R. 6 Limits to "Liberalism" in Pakistan // The Pioneer, 18.01.2011.

Punj B. 7 The Shadow of Terror // The Pioneer, 17.01.2011.

8 Lawyers Shower Roses for Governor's Killer // Dawn - wyers-shower-roses-for-governors-killer.html

Burke J. 9 Op. cit.

Ahmad I. 10 Silenced by the Forces of Darkness // Hindustan Times, 03.03.2011.

Anjum S. 11 Breakthrough in Bhatti Murder Case // The News - Detail.aspx?ID=45850&Cat-6&dt-5/9/2011

12 Minorities in Pakistan under Attack // The Asian Age, 15.04.2011.

13 Madrasas are on Rise in Islamabad // The Asian Age, 13.03.2011.


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