Blasphemy arrests and mob violence continue to escalate in Pakistan as blasphemy laws are leading to the erasure of atheist identities.
Pakistan is among one of 32 Muslim-majority countries that imposes harsh penaltiesfor blasphemy, apostasy, or atheism, and one of 12 that punishes these "crimes" with death. The atheists, agnostics, and other dissenters of Islam in the country are fast losing their safe spaces online, which they had built to dodge the institutionalized threats engulfing them, media reports stated.
After the Pakistan Electronic Crimes Act (PECA) in 2016 co-opted the harsh clauses of the Pakistan Penal Code, blaspheming online became a capital crime.
In 2017, immediately after passing PECA, Pakistan issued its first death sentence for digital blasphemy. The same year, the state launched a crackdown on online dissent and atheism, urging the masses to 'report blasphemers,' going so far as to abduct and torture activists and bloggers for dissent against the military establishment and Islamic hegemony.
Since Islamic hegemony helps the state, especially the all-powerful military and radical Islamist groups, maintain its autocratic control, it has been in the rulers' interest to silence all forms of dissent, DailyDot reported, citing sources.
The arrests for blasphemy have escalated over the past five years in Pakistan and so has mob violence. For instance, the lynching of Mashal Khan by fellow students in 2017 and the death sentence issued for university lecturer Junaid Hafeez in 2019 have silenced debate on religion and atheism in educational institutions, including in digital spheres
Moreover, the lynching in December of Sri Lankan citizen Priyantha Kumara, over allegations that he had torn a poster that had Islamic prayers written on them, was a gory reminder of how Pakistan's blasphemy law continues to encourage Islamist mob violence.
According to DailyDot, Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) and the Federal Investigation Agency have access to groups and pages on social media, which has even resulted in summon of administrators during the state's crackdown on blasphemy.
Families disowning outspoken atheists is a frequent occurrence all over the country, with many even reporting their relatives for blasphemy. Many dissenters are also forced to flee after being labelled heretics by local Islamic clerics endangering their lives in their own hometowns.
However, some Pakistani atheists believe that their free-thinking kin will hopefully have their day.
Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act (PECA) law goes on to intimidate Pakistan's marginalized communities by giving power to those who are reigning in the top powers. The Pakistan government has also urged Facebook and Twitter to help in identifying the blasphemers on their platforms and has also issued warnings to cell phone users, regarding the perils of sending blasphemous texts by the PTA. (ANI)