Pakistani Ambassador Charged With Blasphemy in Proof Of Uneasy Alliance With U.S.

In Pakistan religious fundamentalism is nothing new, and the recent news that Pakistani Ambassador to the U.S. Sherry Rehman has been charged with committing blasphemy (a crime punishable by death) is very reflective of the reality that it is in fact protected by the rule of law.

To discuss whether the law should exist at all is a waste of time, this is an Islamic state under the rule of Sharia law. In fact, there is nothing wrong in protecting the sanctity of the holy Prophet; instead, the problem lies in the extremely flawed and unjust framing of the blasphemy law, which has resulted in about 1,200 criminal prosecutions since 1986.

The blasphemy law has no evidentiary standard, no requirement to prove intent, and no procedural safeguards to penalize false allegations. It provides no guidance on what constitutes a blasphemous activity, meaning the standard is essentially whatever offends the accuser. 

Unsurprisingly, this has led to the consistent abuse of the law. In 2011, a politician was killed by his bodyguard because he claimed his boss had committed blasphemy, and therefore such an action was warranted. This man was then hailed as a hero by the Pakistani public. In September 2006 policemen refused to charge two men of theft due to lack of evidence. They then asked the accusers to change their accusation from theft to blasphemy, after which the policeman promptly charged the two men. For years, the blasphemy law has been used as a tool for people to avenge personal vendettas or further other interests. It is interesting to note that although no individual has been executed (although there are individuals currently on death row), many have been killed by groups of rioters who have been incited to murder those accused of blaspheming against the holy Prophet.

In 2010 Rehman, then a member of parliament, proposed a bill to amend the blasphemy law. Recognizing the flaws and gross misuse of the law, she proposed that the dealth penalty be amended to a 10 year imprisonment term. In order to safeguard against misuse, she added that "anyone making false or frivolous accusations under any of the sections of 295 A, 295 B and 295 C of the PPC shall be punished in accordance with similar punishments prescribed in the section under which the false or frivolous accusation was made." These amendments were evidently important ones, and would have undoubtedly strengthened the rule of law in Pakistan and safeguarded its own citizens. "The procedural amendments I sought would have given relief to innocent people, that's all," said Rehman.

Her bill never made it any further. As clerical opposition made it clear no changes to the blasphemy law would be entertained, Rehman received death threats and was finally pressured by her own party to withdraw the bill. Ironically, Rehman is now charged of blasphemy by the very law she attempted to change in order to prevent it being misused and to avenge personal vendettas.

The United States and Pakistan share perhaps the most interesting bilateral relationship in the international system, best described by the popular proverb "each cannot live with each other, but cannot live without." They are bound by a strictly strategic interest based relationship; the two do not share any values. Incidents like these are reminder of why that is