Five bizarre blasphemy cases
Sara Yasin looks at some disturbing cases of censorship in the name of religious offence
23 Aug 12

An 11-year-old girl with Down’s Syndrome was last week arrested in Pakistan, after an angry mob demanded that the girl be punished for allegedly desecrating the Qur’an — the Islamic holy book. The young girl is a resident of a Christian neighbourhood on the outskirts of Islamabad, from where over 600 citizens have now fled after calls for her arrest were accompanied by threats to burn Christian homes in the area. This isn’t the first blasphemy case we’ve seen come out of Pakistan — earlier this year, charges were brought against Facebook for hosting “blasphemous content”. In September 2011, a young Christian school girl was expelled for misspelling a word on an exam question tied to a poem revering the  Prophet Muhammad.

Religious sensitivities have mostly been responsible for silence from Pakistani politicians on the controversial laws — slammed internationally for their usage against religious minorities in the country. Politicians speaking out against the laws have faced hardship, and even in some cases — death. In January this year, governor of the state of Punjab Salman Taseer was slain after criticising the law, and Minorities Minister Shahbaz Bhatti was murdered last year after speaking out against the country’s blasphemy laws, under which 1,000 cases have been lodged against individuals for allegedly desecrating the Qur’an since 1998.

Of course, Pakistan is not alone in upholding vague blasphemy laws that make it easy to clamp down on free speech in the name of protecting religion. Here are some ridiculous blasphemy cases from around the world this year.


Three members of feminist punk group Pussy Riot were this month sentenced to two years in prison after being charged with “hooliganism motivated by religious hatred” for a 40-second performance staged in Moscow’s Christ the Saviour Church. Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, Maria Alekhina and Ekaterina Samutsevic were arrested in March for their “punk prayer” — which invoked the Virgin Mary to cast out Russian President Vladimir Putin. The case has garnered international outrage, as local activists believe that the charges brought against the women are actually politically motivated.


In post-revolution Tunisia, the General Director of a TV station that aired a film depicting God as an old bearded man, was prosecuted and fined for “violating sacred values”. Nabil Karoui’s station, Nessma TV, aired the animated film Persepolis, based on Iranian artist Marjane Satrapi’s graphic novel by the same name.

And concerns about freedom of expression in Tunisia only seem to grow, as its ruling Islamist party moved to outlaw blasphemy in a bill filed on 1 August. If passed, “cursing, insulting, mocking, undermining, and desecrating” religious symbols from the three Abrahamic faiths (Islam, Judaism, and Christianity) could lead to two years in jail, as well as a hefty fine of 2000 TND (£794).  While the ruling Ennadha Party claims to want to protect free speech, blasphemy is treated differently — in the name of protecting an “Arab Muslim identity”.


Indian skeptic Sanal Edamaruku, has built a career out of challenging religious superstitions and mystics. Edamaruku now faces blasphemy charges for “deliberately hurting religious feelings” after pointing out that the “miracle” of “holy water” dripping from a crucifix in a Mumbai-based Catholic church was actually the result of a leaky pipe rather than divine intervention. He potentially faces jail time, and is currently remaining outside of the country in order to avoid arrest.


Earlier this year, beloved Egyptian comic Adel Imam was sentenced to three months in jail for “insulting Islam” in films he made in the early 1990s. A Cairo court eventually dropped the charges, which were brought against the comic by Islamist lawyer Asran Mansour, for allegedly ridiculing political and religious figures. Also this year, Islamists accused Coptic businessman Naguib Sawiris of “blasphemy and insulting Islam” after he posted a picture of a veiled Minnie and bearded Mickey Mouse on the social networking site Twitter. The charges were eventually dismissed. Both of these case sparked outrage and fears that a clampdown on free expression in the country might take place, as the newly elected President Mohamed Morsi is a member of the Muslim Brotherhood.

Well-known Polish pop star Doda was fined at the start of the year for comments she made in a 2009 interview, where she said that she had difficulty believing in the Bible, as it “was written by someone drunk on wine and smoking some herbs”. Doda, who launched her career with a solo album entitled Diamond Bitch, was fined 5,000 zlotys by Polish authorities for her comments — deemed to be offensive in the deeply Roman Catholic country.

Sara Yasin is an Editorial Assistant at Index on Censorship. She tweets from @missyasin