295. Injuring or defiling place of worship, with intent to insult the religion of any class. Whoever destroys, damages or defiles any place of worship, or any object held sacred by any class of persons with the intention of thereby insulting the religion of any class of per­sons or with the knowledge that any class of persons is likely to consider such destruction, damage or defilement as an insult to their religion, shall be punished with imprisonment of either des­cription for a term which may extend to two years, or with fine, or with both.

295A. Deliberate and malicious acts intended to outrage religious feelings of any class by insulting its religion or religious beliefs. Whoever, with deliberate and malicious intention of outraging the religious feelings of any class of [the citizens of Pakistan], by words, either spoken or written, or by visible repre­sentations insults or attempts to insult the religion or the religious beliefs of that class, shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to ten years, or with fine, or with both.

295B. Defiling, etc., of copy of Holy Quran. Whoever wilfully defiles, damages or descrates a copy of the Holy Quran or of an extract therefrom or uses it in any derogatory manner or for any unlawful purpose shall be punishable with imprisonment for life.

295C. Use of derogatory remarks, etc., in respect of the Holy Prophet. Whoever by words, either spoken or written, or by visible representation, or by any imputation, innuendo, or insinuation, directly or indirectly, defiles the sacred name of the Holy Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) shall be punished with death, or imprisonment for life, and shall also be liable to fine.

296. Disturbing religious assembly. Whoever voluntarily causes disturbance to any assem­bly lawfully engaged in the performance of religious worship, or religious ceremonies, shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to one year, or with fine, or with both.

297. Trespassing on burial places, etc. Whoever, with the intention of wounding the feelings of any person, or of insulting the religion of any person, or with the knowledge that the feelings of any person are likely to be wounded, or that the religion of any person is likely to be insulted thereby, commits any trespass in any place of worship or on any place of sculpture, or any place set apart for the performance of funeral rites or as a depository for the remains of the dead, or offers any indignity to any human corpse, or causes disturbance to any per­sons assembled for the performance of funeral ceremonies, shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may one year, or with fine, or with both.

What the laws say

Chapter XV of Pakistan’s Penal Code, titled “Of Offences Relating to Religion,” contains six sections. Four of them outlaw a number of acts, ranging from tresspassing on places of worship to “malicious acts intended to outrage religious feelings,” with penalties ranging from one to 10 years in prison, plus fines.

Two other sections, however, specifically address Islam. Section 295B forbids desecration of the Quran. The penalty is a mandatory life sentence.

Section 295C forbids insults to “the sacred name of the Holy Prophet Muhammad.” The minimum penalty is a mandatory life sentence; the maximum penalty is death. In 1990, Pakistan’s Federal Shariah Court ruled that the death penalty should be mandatory. Created in 1980, the Shariah court decides whether civil laws are “repugnant to the Injunctions of Islam.”

Impact of the laws

No one has been executed under Section 295C. Most of those who are accused eventually are freed on appeal, often to face mob justice. More than 50 people have been murdered in extrajudicial killings. Two prominent Pakistani politicians were assassinated in 2010 after they spoke publicly in defense of Asia Bibi, who had been charged under Section 295C. In May 2014, human rights lawyer Rashid Rehman was murdered after he took up the defense of a teacher accused of blasphemy.

Lower courts often are reluctant to decide cases out of fear that acquittal will provoke mob violence.

Where the laws come from

The original blasphemy law dates back to 1860, during Britain’s colonial rule over the multicultural Indian subcontinent. It was intended to prevent Muslims, Hindus and Sikhs from using provocative religious language against each other. The law was expanded in 1927, prior to the 1947 partition that created Pakistan.

In the 60 years following 1927, a handful of blasphemy charges were filed in Pakistan. During the military rule of Gen. Zia-ul-Haq, president from 1978-1988, the law was expanded in several steps to protect the Sunni version of Islam. Since Haq’s rule, thousands of blasphemy cases have been lodged.

Though Christians and other religious minorities make up only about 4 percent of the country’s overwhelmingly Muslim population, they account for about half of the people charged with blasphemy. Critics point to this as evidence that the anti-blasphemy laws are tools of intimidation to settle personal scores that use religion as a pretext.

What others say

The anti-blasphemy laws are regularly rebuked by human-rights organizations and governments:

The U.S. Commission on International Regligious Freedom, an advisory body to the U.S. Congress

The country’s blasphemy laws . . . target members of religious minority communities and dissenting Muslims.

There is no clear definition of blasphemy, which empowers the accuser to decide if a blasphemous act has occurred. No proof of intent is required, nor must evidence be presented after allegations are made.

Source: 2015 annual report

Human Rights Commission of Pakistan

The law has been a potent tool in the hands of extremist elements to victimise minority and vulnerable communities.

Source: 2011 report

All-Party Parliamentary Group for International Freedom of Religion or Belief (UK)

The overall impact of these laws, has been deeply disturbing and regrettable; not only have they produced a culture of religious intolerance, bigotry and fanaticism, they also deter any form of rational and tolerant expression on matters pertaining to religion.

Lower courts judges are also easily intimidated by violent extremists, leading to few defendants being released on bail or acquitted, some trials even being delayed indefinitely, for fear of reprisal and vigilantism.

[O]ther state bodies such as the police are fearful, prejudiced and often incompetent in cases of blasphemy.

Source: 2016 draft report

Amnesty International

Ahmadis, Hindus and Christians remained at serious risk of violence and intimidation on the basis of their religious beliefs. There were at least 79 attacks on Shi’a Muslims – the most for any religious group in the country. Religious minorities were disproportionately represented in incidents where private individuals sought to invoke Pakistan’s vaguely formulated blasphemy laws.

Source: 2013 annual report