Ahead of Pakistan’s general elections later this month, the newly established Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) party is gaining traction with its anti-blasphemy agenda, Al-Jazeera reports.
The party calls for blasphemers against Islam to be put to death and for those who kill alleged blasphemers to be celebrated. Its election posters often feature images of those who have killed for blasphemy – among them Mumtaz Qadri, who was put to death for murdering the Punjab governor Salmaan Taseer for the latter’s criticism of Pakistan’s notorious blasphemy laws and support for a Christian woman on death row, Asia Bibi.
According to Al-Jazeera, at least 74 people have been killed since 1990 following accusations of committing blasphemy. Many more have been arrested and tried.
Pakistan has the most stringent blasphemy laws in the world, and they have been used disproportionately against religious minorities – Pakistani Christians make up only 1.5 per cent of the total population, but over a quarter (187) of the 702 blasphemy cases registered between 1990 and 2014 were against Christians.
The head of the TLP, Khadim Hussain Rizvi, is a scholar who blocked a major highway into the capital, Islamabad, with thousands of his supporters in November, protesting against a change to an electoral oath that Rizvi claimed amounted to blasphemy. The federal minister resigned over the protests.
Lahore, Pakistan’s second city, where the TLP held a rally last week, with its supporters calling for blasphemers to be hanged, saw 800 families flee from a Christian neighbourhood in February after a 20-year-old Christian man was accused of posting blasphemous content on Facebook, causing an angry mob to form.
The TLP has put forward more than 550 candidates to contest national and provincial assembly seats.
Yet, as World Watch Monitor reported last week, among the thousands of candidates contesting hundreds of provincial and national constituencies across the country, not a single Christian is nominated by any party – from the ultra-right to the liberal left.