Pakistan Cracks Down on Peaceful Protest

Priest, 60, Among Those Who Opposed Blasphemy Law

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KARACHI, Pakistan, JAN. 15, 2001 ( – FIDES).-
A human rights leader was among the 50 protesters detained last week for taking part in an anti-blasphemy laws demonstration organized by the All Faiths Spiritual Movement in Karachi.

Father Arnold Heredia, 60, was among those detained last Wednesday. Father Heredia has served in human rights organizations for over two decades and is respected in civil society.

At least 600 people staged a peaceful march through the city to protest the country´s controversial blasphemy laws that impose the death penalty on anyone found guilty of insulting Islam or its prophet Muhammad. Police intervened with tear gas, and 50 people were arrested.

The lower court has ordered the detainees held until Jan. 16. A day after the arrests the local Catholic Church and several civil associations demanded the immediate release of the protesters. The diocesan Justice and Peace Commission is preparing to appeal to the High Court.

The National Justice and Peace Commission expressed profound concern over the use of brutal force, including baton-charging, and detention of peaceful marchers. «The act of the administration is gruesome and unjustified because the march was peaceful and the people were only exercising their constitutional right of expression,» the panel said in a statement.

Father Emmanuel Yousaf Mani, commission director, and Cecil Chaudry, a Catholic lay leader, confirmed that the arrests are illegal. «We demand that the government take affirmative steps to stamp out religious intolerance,» they told the Fides agency.

Last May, Christians and moderate Muslims in Pakistan expressed disappointment when General Pervez Musharraf first announced changes in the blasphemy laws and then withdrew them, giving in to protests by Muslim fundamentalists. Christians comprise about 3 million of Pakistan´s 141 million people.

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