Pakistan's Bishops Target Blasphemy Law

“Unjust” Measure Leaves 20 Dead, 647 Imprisoned

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LAHORE, Pakistan, MAY 15, 2005 (Zenit.org).- The blasphemy law in force in Pakistan lends itself to abuse, reported the Justice and Peace Commission of the country’s bishops’ conference.

The bishops released a report listing the names of 647 people that have been convicted for blasphemy and imprisoned for life since 1988, and reported that at least 20 convicted blasphemers have received the death penalty, reported Fides news agency last week.

The blasphemy law, introduced in 1986, is contained in sections B and C of article 295 of the Pakistani penal code. Section B refers to offenses against the Koran, punishable with life imprisonment, and section C punishes with the death penalty or life imprisonment “anyone who insults the holy name of the prophet [Mohammad] in word, writing or deed or visible representation, including direct or indirect insinuations.”

Pakistan’s bishops stated that the measure is “unjust and discriminatory,” and that the law is used against personal enemies, as a way to get revenge, or even as a means for Muslim fundamentalists to persecute Christians or anyone disagreeing with them.

The Church in Pakistan has also criticized the superficial changes made by the government last October that only affected the procedures of applying the law without touching the content of the law, reported AsiaNews.

According to bishops’ report, more than 80 Christians are imprisoned on charges of blasphemy, a large number considering that Christians constitute a very small minority of the Pakistani population.

The document also reports that, of the 647 people charged with blasphemy, 50% are Muslims, 37% Ahmadis, 13% Christian and 1% Hindu.

Peter Jacob, the commission’s chairman, said the official cases numbered 647, but it is thought that the figure is much higher.

Since 1988, the higher courts have acquitted 102 convicted blasphemers. These cases, the courts observed, were filed to exploit the accused for religious, financial or personal reasons.

Of the 20 people murdered, 14 were Muslims and six were Christians. Among the individuals killed is retired Lahore High Court justice, Arif Hussain Bhatto, because he defended a person accused of blasphemy.

In Pakistan, out of a total population of 155 million, 75% are Sunni Muslims and 20% are Shiites. Christians constitute 2.5%, and about 1.2 million of all Christians are Catholics.

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