Repeal of Pakistan's Blasphemy Laws Urged

Franciscan and Dominicans NGOs Lobby U.N. Panels

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GENEVA, JUNE 9, 2004 ( Franciscan and Dominican non-governmental organizations are lobbying a pair of U.N. panels for the repeal of Pakistan’s blasphemy laws.

The NGOs — Franciscans International, and Dominicans for Justice and Peace — are encouraged by Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf’s recent announcement of a possible revision of the country’s laws.

Musharraf’s announcement, at a recent congress in Islamabad, stated that some standards in the Islamic criminal code might be amended.

«Since 1986, the blasphemy laws have victimized minorities in Pakistan,» explains a statement issued by Franciscans International.

«Article 295-C of Pakistan’s Penal Code denounces ‘all those who in words or writings, gestures or visible representations, with direct or indirect insinuations, insult the holy name of the Prophet,'» the statement adds. «Consequently, through false accusations, many minorities repeatedly experience humiliation, intolerance and violence.»

In addition to carrying a mandatory death sentence, these provisions also serve as tools for personal vendettas, the NGOs contend. Muslim militants frequently manipulate the laws to persecute Christians or other groups.

Because of continual intimidation and pressures from the judiciary system, the blasphemy laws also prevent fair, impartial and independent hearings from taking place, the NGOs said. Thus, victims are often unfairly accused and tried without proper examination of evidence.

Since 1997, Franciscans International and Dominicans for Justice and Peace have intervened at the U.N. Commission and Subcommission on Human Rights and called upon the Pakistani government to repeal all discriminatory laws, specifically the blasphemy statutes.

The NGOs view the application of the death penalty as a violation of the right to life as proclaimed in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

«Religious intolerance remains as one of the root causes of a number of conflicts, war and ongoing violence in the world,» declared Philippe LeBlanc, the director of Dominicans for Justice and Peace, earlier this year.

He added: «The absence of political will on the part of some governments to end this discrimination and the lack of prosecution in cases further encourages groups to victimize individuals and organizations.»

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