Saturday, August 6, 2011

"Unholy Speech and Holy Laws: Blasphemy Laws in Pakistan--Controversial Origins, Design Defects, and Free Speech Implications"


Osama Siddique & Zahra Hayat, Unholy Speech and Holy Laws: Blasphemy Laws in Pakistan--Controversial Origins, Design Defects, and Free Speech Implications, 17 Minn. J. Int'l L. 303 (2008).

This long, thorough article examines the history of blasphemy laws in Pakistan, focussing primarily on the new offences created under the regime of dictator Genera Zia-ul-Haq which continue to have baneful effects on religious freedom in the country. The sense one gets reading Siddique's and Hayat's article is that (1) blasphemy laws are applied in a harsh and discriminatory manner by Pakistan's trial courts, which are composed of judges who are poorly-educated, biased, and unable to withstand community pressures; (2) trial-level blasphemy convictions are almost always reversed or upheld but with a more lenient sentence by appellate courts; and (3) perhaps the greatest risk of being accused of blasphemy is not what happens in court, but what happens out of it, as vigilante beatings and murders of alleged blasphemers (and those who attempt to reform the law) are commonplace. The article states that "the blasphemy laws, in their current form, are an instance of legislation inherently open to abuse, operating in an environment that is at times unfortunately conducive to that abuse." (p. 206) An interesting discussion of the Islamization of Pakistan places the blasphemy laws in context, while an analysis of conceptually-similar laws in other countries prompts an analysis of whether Pakistan's laws could be justified as a variation on hate speech.

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