Pakistan death sentence illustrates iniquity of blasphemy laws, say churches

By Ecumenical News International
June 12, 2007

Christian groups in Pakistan are again demanding the scrapping of a draconian blasphemy law after a number of blasphemy cases were imposed on Christians in recent days - writes Anto Akkara
from Bangalore, India

"The religious extremists are furthering their agenda by abusing the blasphemy laws while the government constantly refuses to discuss the issue on any proper forum," lamented the National Justice and Peace Commission of the Roman Catholic church in a statement.

Younis Masih, a 29-year-old Christian from Lahore, had been sentenced to death on 30 May for allegedly making derogatory remarks about Muhammad on 9 September 2005.

On that day, a neighbour of Masih demanded that Christians gathering in their town observe Muslim and not Christian rituals. This precipitated an argument that resulted in the charges and the death sentence being meted out to Masih.

Then, four Christian students and two teachers of the Pakistan Institute of Medical Sciences in Rawalpindi on 1 June were charged with blasphemy when they were accused of crossing out a Quranic verse on a notice board. The suspended staff included the Christian principal, Stella Nazir, who says she was on leave on the day of the alleged desecration.

"A true democracy would remain impossible while the discriminatory laws such as section 295 B and C of the Pakistan Penal Code [blasphemy law] were part of the statutes," stated the Catholic commission, reiterating demands for the scrapping of the law.

"Blasphemy cases are increasing daily. This is really worrying," Peter Jacob, executive secretary of the commission, told Ecumenical News International.

The Catholic commission has noted that at least 25 persons have had to face blasphemy allegations in 2007 with 16 of those charged being Christians, which includes nine women. The blasphemy law, he lamented, "has become very handy for those who want to harass us [Christians]".

[With grateful acknowledgements to ENI. Ecumenical News International is jointly sponsored by the World Council of Churches, the Lutheran World Federation, the World Alliance of Reformed Churches, and the Conference of European Churches]

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