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Explained: Why has a Pakistan court sentenced a school principal to death?

Salma Tanvir, a school principal, has been sentenced to death for blasphemy. What is the case against her, and what are the blasphemy laws in Pakistan? 

By: Explained Desk | New Delhi |
September 30, 2021 12:19:23 pm
Salma Tanvir was sentenced to death by a court in Lahore on September 27.

On Monday (September 27), a court in Lahore, Pakistan sentenced a woman to death over charges of blasphemy. As per media reports, a district and sessions court sentenced Salma Tanvir, who is the principal of a private school, to death and fined her with PKR 5,000.

In 2010, Asia Bibi, a Pakistani Christian woman, was sentenced to death for blasphemy but was acquitted by the country’s Supreme Court eight years later for lack of evidence. She was allowed to leave to Canada in May 2019.

So far, Pakistan has not executed any person for blasphemy. However, several extra-judicial killings have been reported. One case is that of Mashal Khan, a university student from the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province, who was lynched after he was accused of blasphemy on social media in 2017.

What is the case against Salma Tanvir?

The blasphemy charges stem from Tanvir’s denial that Prophet Muhammad was the last prophet of Islam.

According to a report in news agency PTI, the Lahore Police registered a case of blasphemy against Tanvir in 2013 after a local cleric complained against her. The woman denied that Prophet Muhammad was the last prophet of Islam and also declared herself to be the Prophet of Islam.

Pakistan is infamous for its strict blasphemy laws. In 2019, Junaid Hafeez, a former university lecturer, was sentenced to death on blasphemy charges. Hafeez, who was 33 at the time of sentencing, was a visiting lecturer at Multan’s Bahauddin Zakariya University (BZU).

Years prior to this, in 2013, Hafeez was arrested after he was accused of making blasphemous remarks during a lecture he gave at an event.

What are the blasphemy laws in Pakistan?

Amnesty International has maintained that these blasphemy laws are “often used against religious minorities and others who are the target of false accusations, while emboldening vigilantes prepared to threaten or kill the accused.”

Section 295-C of the Pakistan Penal Code provides punishment for blasphemy, and was enacted during the military rule of General Zia-ul-Haq in 1986.

The Section reads:

“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.”

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