An estimated 100,000 people in Pakistan attended the funeral of a man who was executed for murdering former governor Salman Taseer earlier this month.
Mumtaz Qadri became an unlikely hero when he shot Taseer to death in 2011. Rose petals were thrown at his feet when he walked into the courtroom that sentenced him to death and mourners praised his “bravery” as they carried his coffin through the streets of Rawalpindi.
To understand why a bodyguard-turned-murderer received a rockstar’s last rites lies, one must look to Pakistani history — and its controversial blasphemy laws. At the time of independence from Britain, Pakistan was formed as refuge for Muslims by leaders who feared how they would fare in a Hindu-majority state. The country’s strict blasphemy laws stem from its colonial past, but have been invoked time and again to protect the country’s overtly Muslim identity.
This is where Taseer comes in. As the governor of Punjab, he was an outspoken advocate for the rights of religious minorities. He pushed back against a blasphemy charge against a Chrisitan woman named Asia Bibi, who was sentenced to death in 2010. Doing so led more staunchly conservative people in the country to believe that Taseer was himself a blasphemer for not guarding the sanctity of the Prophet Mohammad.
To them, Qadri is seen as a guardian of the sanctity of Islam.
“[Qadri] sent to hell a person who showed disrespect for the holy Prophet,” Tahir Iqbal Chistie of the hardline Sunni group said amid the widespread demonstrations. “What he did was according to the orders of the Quran and the collected reports of what the Prophet Muhammad said and did during his lifetime.”
The Sordid History Of Blasphemy Laws That Convinced A 15-Year-Old Boy To Cut Off His Own Hand
Such hardline views appear to be becoming increasingly popular in Pakistan. And so are blasphemy charges. Although a serious allegation -- blasphemy can carry a sentence of death -- little evidence is needed to “prove” the charge in court. Many critics believe blasphemy is used to settle personal vendettas.
But it isn’t just in Pakistan where the charge of offending God sees very real repercussions for people. Such cases can be found all over the world -- and not just in Muslim-majority countries either. Here are a few examples.
A Conversation In Russia
A Russian man faces a year in prison for an internet exchange in which he wrote, “God does not exist.”
Viktor Krasnov appeared in court earlier this month after he was accused of offending the sentiments of religious people. The charge stems from a 2013 law that was introduced after the punk rock protest group Pussy Riot staged a demonstration in a Moscow church.
The 38-year-old said that he has been threatened by what he called “Orthodox Christian fundamentalists” who said, “They will get me, my family, and do all sorts of bad things.”
Sova Center, a Moscow-based rights organization, has said that the case against Krasnov is “a violation of his right to freedom of conscience.”
A Video In Egypt
A group of four Christian teenagers were sentenced to up to five years in prison each for appearing in a video that mocked ISIS. Human Rights Watch has confirmed that a juvenile offenses court handed down its decision late last month.
The 16 and 17-year olds were charged for blasphemy for imitating the way in which Muslims pray in a 32-second video shot by their teacher, who was sentenced to three years in prison in a separate trial. According to the court, the boys’ actions flouted a provision of the Egyptian penal code which outlaws the contempt of religion, although their families insist that their actions weren’t meant to be derisive.
“They are just teenagers,” one of the teenager’s fathers said. “They were psychologically troubled by the killings of Coptic Christians in Libya and went for entertainment. They didn’t deliberately intend any offense…How can you try someone for mocking ISIS?”
A Metal Band In Iran
Two members of the Iranian heavy metal band Confess have been released on bail after paying about $33,000 and spending three months in solitary confinement in Iran’s infamous Evin prison.
Nikan Khosravi, 23, and Arash Ilkhani, 21, were charged with blasphemy, as well as propaganda against the regime. Additionally charges included “forming an illegal underground music and recording and playing Satanism in the style of rock and metal music,” “writing anti-religious and atheistic political and anarchist poems,” and submitting to “interviews with foreign radio [outlets],” according to the Human Rights Activists News Agency.
The two men are awaiting the date of their trial, and could still face execution, according to a friend of its members who reached out to Metal Nation Radio.