Pakistan’s blasphemy law, which turns 30 this year, has become only more deadly with age. Since blasphemy was made a capital crime under the nation’s secular penal code, the effect has been to suppress moderate influences, pushing “Pakistani society further out on the slippery slope of extremism,” said Mujeeb-ur-Rahman, senior advocate at the Supreme Court of Pakistan, in Washington last week. With its large population and sensitive location, Pakistan is a place where any societal shift in the direction of the Taliban deserves the attention of all concerned about Islamic extremism. Instead, this is one more foreign threat that the Obama administration underestimates.
On October 16, for the first time, an appeals court affirmed a death sentence for blasphemy meted out to a woman. A Christian mother of five, Asia Bibi was arrested in 2009 after fellow field hands complained that, during a dispute, she had insulted the prophet of Islam. No evidence was produced, because to repeat blasphemy is blasphemous. Similarly, anyone who defends an accused blasphemer risks being labeled a blasphemer; two officials who made appeals on Bibi’s behalf—Salman Taseer, governor of Punjab, and Shahbaz Bhatti, federal minister for minorities affairs—were assassinated in 2011. Bibi has one last legal recourse, an appeal to the federal Supreme Court, but now no public official dares speak up for her—or for any other blasphemy defendant.