On Jan. 17, 2023, Pakistan’s National Assembly unanimously voted to expand the country’s laws on blasphemy, which carries the death penalty for insulting the Prophet Muhammad. The new law now extends the punishment to those deemed to have insulted the prophet’s companions, which could include thousands of early Muslims, with 10 years in prison or life imprisonment.
Human rights activists are concerned that the expanded laws could target minorities, particularly Shiite Muslims who are critical of many leading early Muslims.
Pakistan has the world’s second-strictest blasphemy laws after Iran. About 1,500 Pakistanis have been charged with blasphemy over the past three decades. In a case covered by the international media, Junaid Hafeez, a university lecturer, was sentenced to death on the charge of insulting the prophet on Facebook in 2019. His sentence has been under appeal.
Although no executions have ever taken place, extrajudicial killings related to blasphemy have occurred in Pakistan. Since 1990, more than 70 people have been murdered by mobs and vigilantes over allegations of insulting Islam.