Catholics Urge Pakistani to Abolish Blasphemy Law

Following His Audience With the Pope

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LAHORE, Pakistan, OCT. 1, 2004 ( Representatives of the Catholic Church in Pakistan have appealed to the country’s president to abolish the blasphemy law, which can carry the death penalty.

The episcopal conference’s Peace Commission formulated the petition on the occasion of President Pervez Musharraf’s visit to John Paul II on Thursday in the Vatican.

Musharraf has proposed a modification to the law, but the change must be submitted to and approved by the Council of Islamic Ideology.

The law on blasphemy, sections 295 B and C of the Pakistani Criminal Code, was introduced in 1986.

Section 295-B refers to offenses to the Koran, punished even by life imprisonment, while section 295-C provides the death penalty or life imprisonment for «all those who by words or writings, gestures or visible representations, with direct or indirect insinuations, insult the sacred name of the Prophet.»

The disposition, which allows for the imprisonment of the alleged transgressor in virtue of simple oral statements made by any citizen, favors its use as a means of personal vengeance. It is also manipulated by Muslim militants to persecute Christians or all those who disagree with them.

In a message sent to the missionary agency Fides, the bishops’ Peace Commission stated: «While the Council is deliberating changes in procedure, the destiny of at least 30 Christians and Muslims being tried or waiting for the result of an appeal on charges of blasphemy is still obscure.»

It added: «This means that the defendants and their families continue to suffer despite obvious defects and abuse of the law.»

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