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Blasphemy

Anila Sabu , 25 January 2022  
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KEY TAKE AWAYS

  • Though there are no laws specific to blasphemy India there are some provisions relating to it mentioned under the IPC.
  • The events of the Charlie Hebdo Case and what was held.
  • The events of the Anika Attique Case and what was held.
  • Importance of choosing more peaceful methods over violence, especially while voicing your opinion about anything.
  • Viewing the world in a more practical and understanding way and understanding the concept of “Ying Yang”

INTRODUCTION

Blasphemy:It is the act/actions of one that offend, insult or show contempt or lack of reverence towards God or sacred things in a sacrilegious way.

Blasphemy is commonly misunderstood as criticism, however there is a clear differentiating line between the two. Criticism is when a person criticises based on logic, reason and rationality without defaming any religion or sacred concepts by methods of any action or ‘bad word’. On the other hand, blasphemy refers to the defamation of a religion or sacred thing by actions or by words.

It has been famously argued that criticism comes under freedom of speech but blasphemy does not.

Blasphemy Laws: Blasphemy laws refer to the laws that prohibit blasphemy. The punishment for this varies from serious ones like that of capital punishment or some form of death sentence followed with life imprisonment to lesser serious ones like one month – one year of imprisonment and fine.

According to research, as of 2014, nearly quarter of the worlds countries (i.e 26 %) had some form of anti-blasphemy laws or policies. Queensland and Western Australia have abolished it, however, New South Wales, the Northern Territory, the ACT, Tasmania, Norfolk Island, South Australia etc have criminalised blasphemy.

According to research blasphemy, as of 2020, will amount to the death penalty in Afghanistan, Brunei, Iran, Mauritania, Nigeria, Pakistan, Saudi Ariba and Somalia.

MISUSE

Regardless of the whole controversial debate about whether or not blasphemy laws are right or wrong, like any other law/opinion/concept, it can be misused.

One of the most prominent reasons regarding this would be when justice is taken to the streets and mere citizens feel the need to carry out the law by themselves.

This could be rooted due to the lack of faith or patiencethat citizens have on the justice system. However, regardless of what the case is about, let it be a mere case of defamation or robbery or that of more gruesome matters like manslaughter, we must let the well-defined and thought-out justice system deal with it, and sometimes, only time reveals the truth /whole story.

Now coming to the main focus of this article, being that of blasphemy laws, reports have shown that the laws have been extensively misused to settle personal scores, which were rooted by matters completely unrelated to blasphemy.

The court observed that, sadly, majority of the blasphemy cases were based on false accusations due to personal family vendettas like property issues that unfortunately led to misunderstandings in society and ultimately turned into mob violence, generalisation and in some extreme cases hatred towards a community.

Conversations about punishing those who falsely accuse another of blasphemy even came up. This then finally led to the proposition of safeguarding arrested and in trial persons of false charges, and this was proposed by the National Commission for Human Rights in its submission to the Senates Functional Committee on Human Rights.

INDIAN PENAL CODE

Though in India there is no specific law regarding blasphemy there are some provisions for punishments for the same mentioned under the Indian Penal Code:

  1. Section 153A: States that, anyone person who promotes enmity between different groups on grounds of race, residence, place of birth, language, religion etc. and acts prejudicial to the maintenance of harmony will be punished with imprisonment which may extend to 3 years or with fine or with 3 years and a fine both.
  2. Section 295A: States that, anyone who, with deliberate and malicious intention of outraging the religious feelings of any class of citizens of India, by words either spoken or written or by signs or by visible representation or otherwise insults or attempts to insult the religion or the religious beliefs of that class, will be punished with imprisonment of either description for a time period which may extend to 3 years or with fine or with 3 years and a fine both.
  3. Section 298: States that, anyone who, with the deliberate intention of wounding the religious feelings of any person, utters any word or makes any sound in the hearing of that person or makes any gesture within the sight of that person or places, any object within the sight of that person will be punished with imprisonment of either description for a time period which can reach up to one year or with 1 years and a fine both.

CHARLIE HEBDO CASE

There was a total of 5 incidents that took place on the 7th, 8th and 9th of January, 2015.

The first incident was on 7th January, 2015 at 11:30 am where two Algerian French brothers attacked Charlie Hebdos offices.

Charlie Hebdo is a French weekly magazine. It is a satirical magazine that features cartoons and illustrations, reports, polemics and jokes. The two brothers, Chérif and Saïd Kouachi, who were armed with assault rifles, attacked the Paris offices of Charlie Hebdo.

They first entered the magazine’s offices and killed Frédéric Boisseau (the caretaker).They then forced cartoonist Corinne Rey to granted access by entering the security code to the second floor. An editorial meeting was being held there.

They then stormed into the newsroom, and police officer Franck Brinsolaro, (who had been detailed to protect Charlie Hebdo editor Stéphane Charbonnier) was shot before he had the chance to draw his weapon.Then they proceeded to ask for Charbonnier and four other cartoonists—Jean Cabut, Georges Wolinski, Bernard Verlhac, and Philippe Honoré—by name andkilled them as well. Bernard Maris and psychoanalyst Elsa Cayat, both columnists for Charlie Hebdo, copy editor Mustapha Ourrad, and journalist Michel Renaud, (a guest at the meeting) were also killed.

A total of 12 people were killed and injured 11 others.

The perpetrators of this attack were found to be Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula and the assailants wereChérif and Saïd Kouachi

The second incident took place on the same day (8th January, 2015) at about 8:45 where a Policewoman was killed

While the police were investigating the incidents that happened that day, a lone gunman shot two people in the southern Paris suburb of Mont rouge. This was first not seen as a connecting case to what happed that very morning but then later on in the investigation, they found that the two incidents were connected.

The lone gunman had/was armed with a pistol and a machine-gun, apolicewoman was shot dead and a man was injured.

The third incident took place consecutively on again the same day (8th January, 2015) at 10:30am were during the manhunt, the suspects robbed a petrol station near Villers-Cotterets, in the Aisne region of north-east Paris.

The fourth incident took place the very next day on 9th January, 2015 at 5pm. The two fugitives were known to have been held up in a printing firm called Creation Tendance Decouverte. It was situated on an industrial estate located on the outskirts of the town.

After an eight-hour stand-off, at 5pm there was smoke seen rising from the printworks followed by explosions and gunfire. The two brothers then emerged from the building firing at the police. As a result, the two brothers were killed and two police officers were reported to have been injured.

The fifth incident took place on the same day (9th January, 2015). Were Amedy Coulibaly and Hayat Boumeddiene took a few people under hostage in a supermarket stating/threatening to kill them if the Kouachi brothers were not left free.

When special forces moved against them, explosions were heard at the supermarket. It was reported that as Coulibaly knelt down for his evening prayer her was shot dead, resulting to the freeing of 15 hostages. Unfortunately, 4 hostages; Yohan Cohen, Philippe Braham, Yoav Hattab and Francois-Michel Saada were found dead.

The court found that the motive behind these 5 incidences was Islamic Terrorism, and the cause was the controversial drawings and illustrations regarding the political and religious leaders that was published by the Charlie Hebdo magazines.

As a result, a Paris court found 14 people guilty for their involvement in this case. A total of 11defendants appeared in court for the verdict, and three were tried in absentia.One of those not in court was Hayat Boumeddiene, the fugitive partner of Amedy Coulibaly who was killed within the attack on the supermarket.

Boumeddiene, who fled to Syria a week before the attacks, was found guilty of financing terrorism and belonging to a criminal terrorist network. She was given a 30-year jail sentence.In court Ali Riza Polat, (the main defendant), was found guilty for being involved with/Complicit in a terrorist crime and also given a time period of 30-year imprisonment.

All of the fourteen accomplices were found guilty on various charges.The charges ranged from belonging to a criminal network to direct involvement in the January 2015 attacks. However, for 6 of the 11 defendants, terrorism charges were dropped,but were found guilty of lesser crimes.

The three men who carried out the 7-9 January 2015 attacks were killed and the accomplices, who first went on trial in early September, were accused of obtaining weapons or providing logistical support. They all denied the charges.

Some Details

Renald Luzier, a French cartoonist, who drew the magazine’s cover pictures, is the only surviving cartoonist of the Charlie Hebdo Attack, and below are a few things he had to say:

  • “We (the magazine) had to always navigate between the roles (as given by the society) of agitators and white knights defending free speech.”
  • “Humour doesn’t kill anyone”
  • “We cannot be prisoners of other people’s humour”
  • “We can no longer draw things that could offend someone elsewhere in the world. However, if we start taking into account the opinions of the whole world, we might as well tear up our drawings.”

He wishes the drawings and illustrations of the magazine would become irresponsible again and hence as a joke had published a blank newspaper with the headline ‘Journal responsible’ with empty boxes.

He then left the magazine on October 2015, by stating that the job without his colleagues is “too much to bear”

ANIKA ATTIQUE CASE

In this case a 26-year-old woman had been accused by her friend Farooq Hassanat to have sent him blasphemous messages via WhatsApp.He also alleged that she sent him blasphemous caricatures of holy prophets and also made remarks about ‘holy personages’ via WhatsApp.Furthermore, he accused her of using her Facebook account to send material that were considered blasphemous to other accounts.

It was found that Farooq asked her to delete the blasphemous messages and apologise for her words/action. However, Anika refused to do so.

It was hence held by the court of Rawalpindi, that Anika Attique was guilty of the charges.The sentence that was announced by the court ordered her to be “hanged by the neck till she is dead”. She was also given a 20-year jail sentence.

RELATED CASES

  • Ramji Lal Modi vs The State Of U.P on 5 April, 1957 Citations: 1957 AIR 620, 1957 SCR 860 - the editor, printer and publisher of a magazine called Gaurakshak, published a controversial article on November 1952. On 25th October, 1956 the court held that the article that he had published was published with a deliberate and malicious intent to outrage the religious feelings of Muslims and hence the court held him guilty under section 295A of the IPC.
  • Mt. Asia Bibi vs Malik Azir Ahmad on 17 December, 1931 Citations: AIR 1932 All 704, 137 Ind Cas 50 – in 2009 Asia Bibi, a Pakistani Christian woman, accused of blasphemy. The Supreme Court held her guilty and punished her with the death penalty under section 295 C under the Pakistan Penal Code.

LATEST REPORTED CASES

  • On 3rd December 2021, a Sri Lankan manager of a sports equipment factory named Priyantha Kumara was tortured and burnt to death on the streets of Punjab, Sialkot by a mob after accusing him of blasphemy. He allegedly desecrated stickers and posters containing the name of prophet Muhammad.
  • On 25th November 2021 Four Muslim men were charged with blasphemy for arguing with a Mosque Imam while requesting to permit a funeral announcement from the village mosque for a Christian neighbour.

CONCLUSION

Nothing is black and white, good or bad. There is a famous Chinese philosophy called “Ying Yang” which basically says that there is goodness in badness and badness in goodness too. We as a society should not view the world with the perception that it is divided into two exact halves being a bad side and a good side. We must understand one another and try seeing what the other sides point of view is.

Everyone is divided on opinions however the one opinion that prevails and stands united and most logical among majority is that ‘violence is never the answer’.

We should always resolve to more peaceful ways of making our voices and opinions heard, violent measures never help anyone. Whether that be trying to make a change, comment or trying to create an impact. There are always more peaceful ways, and there is always a choice. We all must take a step back and reflect and introspect the effect our words and actions might have on the world.

That being said, I would also like to add that the acts of some, no matter how much they claim it’s for a certain community, shouldn’t be seen as the definition, or the overall symbol of said community. We must separate them from the rest of the world and see them for their own actions.


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