Hattar, age 56, was arrested in August 2016 for sharing a “blasphemous” cartoon about the prophet Mohammad. Hattar was going into court to stand trial for “contempt of religion” and “inciting sectarian strife” when someone fatally shot him. Witnesses say that the shooter was dressed similarly to Sunni Salafis, a very conservative Muslim group known for their extreme interpretation of Islam.
Approximately 70% of Muslim-majority countries in the Middle East and North Africa have blasphemy laws that make it illegal to criticize or dishonor religious symbols and teachings. In practice, many of these laws apply exclusively to Islam.
In Muslim-majority countries affected by widespread extremism, such as Pakistan, extrajudicial consequences for religious minorities accused of blasphemy are common. These consequences include beatings, arson, and even murder. Christians accused of blasphemy in Pakistan are often forced to go into hiding to avoid such attacks after they are accused.
In November 2014, two Christians in Pakistan’s Kasur District were brutally murdered by a mob of enraged Muslims after being accused of burning a Quran. According to reports, Shahzad Masih and his pregnant wife were beaten by a mob and then murdered by being thrown into a brick kiln. In March 2013, a mob of enraged Muslims burned down Joseph Colony, a Christian-majority neighborhood in Lahore, Pakistan, after a Christian resident was accused of making derogatory remarks against the prophet Mohammad.
Almost 25 percent of the world has a form of blasphemy laws on their books including European, Latin American, and Asian Pacific countries. Fortunately, many of these countries do not actively prosecute individuals under these laws. Still, the very existence of these laws, especially in Muslim-majority countries where blasphemy is a crime that is routinely enforced, continues to create a dangerous situation for religious minorities.
ICC’s Regional Manager, William Stark, said, “We are deeply concerned for the protection of our Christian brothers and sisters in Muslim-majority countries. Blasphemy laws are relative and can be applied at the whim of a government under pressure from extremist groups. Because of their often fickle nature, blasphemy laws and blasphemy accusations can encourage extrajudicial responses from Muslims. Removing blasphemy laws from a country’s legal system will provide a greater measure of protection for religious minorities and individuals will no longer be able to justify their violent behavior towards minorities using blasphemy laws. ICC will continue raising awareness about the victims of blasphemy and provide assistance where it can.”