Pakistani Church Leader Urges Faithful to Be Careful

Tensions High Over Blasphemy Laws After Slaying of Local Politician

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LAHORE, Pakistan, JAN. 9, 2011 ( As some 50,000 supporters of Pakistan’s anti-blasphemy laws marched today in Karachi, local Church leaders were urging Christians to caution, and exhorting them to avoid anything that could incite more violence.

Today’s march in Karachi was organized some time ago, but its tone was marked by last Tuesday’s killing of the governor of Punjab Province, Salman Taseer. The politician was killed by a bodyguard, Mumtaz Qadri, who later told a court that he considered Taseer a blasphemer. The marchers chanted in favor of Qadri, with one speaker saying that Taseer was responsible for his own murder, according to the Associated Press.

Taseer was a proponent of changing Pakistani anti-blasphemy laws, which stipulate the death penalty for insulting Mohammed, or life imprisonment for blaspheming the Quran.

The laws, long held by human rights leaders as a means to violate the freedom of religious minorities, brought international attention again just months ago when a Christian woman, Asia Bibi, was condemned to death after a quarrel with Muslim neighbors over water led to an appeal to the anti-blasphemy laws. Bibi’s fate depends on a pending high court decision.

Benedict XVI was among those who appealed for Bibi’s release, and Taseer had tried to obtain clemency for her.

Staying low

Archbishop Lawrence Saldanha, president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Pakistan, said that Taseer’s murder meant the loss of a “great friend” and “a bold crusader against the blasphemy law,” the National Catholic Register reported.

Meanwhile, Auxiliary Bishop Sebastian Shaw of Lahore said Pakistanis around the nation were shocked by Taseer’s death.

The bishop told Aid to the Church in Need that he is urging the faithful to avoid any action that could be used to justify violence.

“All of our people need to be very careful,” he told the international charity. “Saying anything can incite the mob.

“We must not live in fear. We must have faith in God. But if we go on the streets to express ourselves at this time, it will create a negative reaction.

“If people make statements and take actions that cause incitement, it may not be them that suffer most but their communities.”

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