Barnabas Edit: False accusations and the blasphemy bandwagon stretch from Pakistan to the UK

October 12, 2016 by  
Filed under newsletter-asia

Pakistan, October 12, 2016: Tomorrow Aasia Bibi, a Pakistani Christian mother of five who has languished in jail on death row for six years convicted on a false accusation of blasphemy, will have her appeal heard by Pakistan’s Supreme court. She was accused of defiling the name of Muhammad by an imam who was not even present during an argument she had with Muslim women in her village. Yet, as with so many victims of Pakistan’s blasphemy laws, the accusation – regardless of its truthfulness – is enough to condemn her to death because she has been deemed to have offended Islam. If she is acquitted, Pakistan’s federal shariat court will almost certainly use its power to overturn the verdict while if she is released, Islamic vigilantes will seek to enforce the sharia punishment extrajudicially – just as they have gunned down others acquitted of blasphemy.

In one sense this is nothing new: Daniel was thrown into the Lion’s den after being falsely accused by those who saw him praying (Daniel 6:1-16); Jesus was falsely accused by the chief priests who incited a crowd against him (Matthew 27:20); Paul was also falsely accused by Jews from Asia who incited a mob which then tried to kill him (Acts 21;27-31).

Asia Bibi is far from being an isolated case of false accusation: Pervaiz Masih, a Christian from Faislabad, has just been sentenced to at least ten years in prison by an anti-terrorism court after a dispute between Christian youths and two policemen who were supposed to be guarding the gate of a church; 43 Christians have just been indicted by another anti-terrorism court following street protests by Christians which turned violent last year after 15 Christians were killed and 70 injured in suicide bombings at two churches in Lahore (there is no question that some Christians overreacted in the protests but serious doubts have been raised as to whether the arrests are based on fabricated evidence); also in the last month, 16 year old Nabeel Masih has been accused of blasphemy because someone falsely claimed he had clicked ‘like’ on a Facebook picture of the Ka’ba (the most sacred Muslim site in the world) in Mecca that was deemed to be offensive and therefore “blasphemy”.

His family have had to go into hiding as radical Muslims seek to kill them for his “crime”. When the teenager appeared in court, not only was there an 80-strong Muslim mob outside, but the prosecution lawyer openly threatened his defence team in front of the judge.

The common factor in all of these incidents is that Christians accused by Muslims are frequently assumed to be guilty regardless of the evidence – particularly if the accusation concerns blasphemy. Behind this lies the issue that sharia gives the testimony of non-Muslims significantly lesser weight than that of Muslims, allowing false accusations of blasphemy to be repeatedly and successfully levelled at Christians.

However, what is less widely appreciated is that part of the problem stems from the penal code drawn up by a commission chaired by Thomas Babington Macaulay and instituted by the British in 1860. This law was in many respects the first ever piece of multi-faith legislation. It set out a blasphemy law that criminalised “insulting the religion of ANY class of persons”. What it got wrong was that it protected beliefs rather than people. That is why, when the Islamisation process started to take off in Pakistan in the 1980s, the penal code could easily be amended to make it a specifically Islamic blasphemy law.

The same mistake is now being repeated in Western countries such as the UK, where laws have been introduced that effectively protect people’s beliefs rather than people themselves. This has allowed Islamists to use these laws to target anyone they accuse of “Islamophobia”, meaning not just anti-Muslim hatred but any criticism of Islam. In other words we are in effect creating a Western equivalent of an Islamic blasphemy law by the backdoor.

This has had a chilling effect on some of the most vulnerable people in the West, former Muslims who have converted to Christianity. There is an extreme reluctance to even acknowledge the widespread problem of attempted “forced reconversion” – the violence endured by Christians who have converted from Islam. This is an issue that the UK government’s new hate crime strategy fails to even mention despite Barnabas Fund and others raising this issue over many years. However, worse still false accusation and hate crime laws are now being used to target converts. Take Nissar Hussain for example. He and his family endured years of violence and abuse in Bradford, to the extent of having to move home to a “white English” area and Nissar ending up seriously injured in hospital. If that were not chilling enough, both Nissar and his wife Kubra have each had false allegations against them brought to the police for separate “offences” resulting in each of them being held at the police station for hours.

Nor is Nissar and Kubra’s experience an isolated case. Earlier this year, Belfast pastor James McConnell was prosecuted for describing Islam as “satanic” in a sermon. When he was finally acquitted he told the press, “I want to assure Muslims I love them, what I am against is their theology”.

Why have we got into this situation? Part of the problem is that in the UK the Crown Prosecution Service define a “hate incident” (they do not even use the word “crime”) as:

“any incident which the victim, or anyone else, thinks is based on someone’s prejudice towards them because of their race, religion, sexual orientation, disability or because they are transgender.”

It isn’t even just the victim, it is anyone who can claim that an “incident” is based on someone’s prejudice towards them. In England and Wales, no corroborative evidence is needed to back up the claim.  This allows groups or individuals who want to force their own beliefs on others to target Christians claiming that they are prejudiced against them because they express opinions on issues, such as morality, that they disagree with.

– barnabas persecution update

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