A look at Pakistan’s blasphemy law over the years

Pakistan protesters rally to condemn a Supreme Court decision that ordered the release of Asia Bibi, a Catholic mother of five who has been on death row since 2010 accused of blasphemy, in Peshawar, Pakistan, Wednesday, Oct. 3, 2018. Pakistan's top court on Wednesday acquitted Bibi who was sentenced to death under the country's controversial blasphemy law, a landmark ruling that sparked protests by hard-line Islamists and raised fears of violence. Placard reads, "hang blasphemous Asia." (AP Photo/Muhammad Sajjad)

A series of anti-blasphemy measures introduced in Pakistan in the 1980s made it illegal to insult Islam.

People have been accused of insulting the Prophet Muhammad, tearing pages of the holy Quran or writing offensive remarks on the walls of mosques. Sometimes, the law has been used to settle a personal dispute.

Asia Bibi, a Christian who spent eight years on death row under Pakistan’s divisive blasphemy law, had her conviction overturned Wednesday in Islamabad by the country’s highest court. She was convicted in 2010 under the law after she was accused of insulting the Prophet. But days earlier, two fellow female farm workers had quarreled with her after she drank from a cup. They argued that the cup was unclean because of her faith.

At least 1,472 people were charged under the law between 1987 and 2016, according to the Center for Social Justice, an advocacy group. Of those, 730 were Muslims, 501 were Ahmedis — a sect that is reviled by mainstream Muslims as heretics — while 205 were Christians and 26 were Hindus.

Some other cases over the years:

— In 2002, the high court ordered the release of Ayub Masih, a Christian sentenced to death four years earlier for blasphemy. His attorney said Masih had never made the allegedly blasphemous statements, but instead was a victim of a plot to steal his land.

— In 2012, a man accused of desecrating a Quran was dragged by a crowd from a police station in Bahawalpur, a city in the deeply conservative central Pakistan. They beat him to death and then burned his body. They also burned several police cars, as well as the possessions and furniture of a local police chief.

— Mohammad Mansha, from a village in south Punjab, was targeted because he had fought with members of one village who accused him of blasphemy. He served nine years before authorities decided he was innocent but they couldn’t release him in 2017 because they feared a riot.

— An 11-year-old girl with Down syndrome was accused in 2012 of burning pages of a booklet used to learn the basics of the Quran. The charges were later dropped and the cleric who made the accusation arrested.

— In 2013, police arrested as many as 45 Muslims in connection with the killing of a Christian couple for allegedly desecrating the Quran. Hundreds of Muslims took part in the attack in the town of Kot Radha Kishan in Punjab province in which a mob killed the couple and burned their bodies in a brick kiln in a shop where the man and his wife worked.

— Police opened a case in 2014 against Junaid Jamshed, a pop singer-turned-preacher in Karachi, over a video in which he appeared to insult one of the wives of the Prophet Muhammad while commenting about women. Jamshed swiftly apologized in a video statement, but the court rejected his statement.

— In 2017, Mashal Khan a student at a university in northwest Pakistan was killed by a mob after a rumor spread that he had posted blasphemous material online. It was later proven that he hadn’t made the post, and more than 50 people were arrested. It was believed the accusation came after he criticized the university administration.

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