Initiatives in Pakistan are seeking to repeal the “black law” which punishes offences to Islam, the Koran and the Prophet Muhammad by life imprisonment and death penalty.
“It is the root of many evils in Pakistan, human rights abuses, violence and discrimination. This is why it should be abolished”, explains lawyer Mushtaq Gill, head of the NGO Christian LEAD in an interview with Fides. Gill has officially launched a new abolitionist campaign.
“Even if we are threatened by this,” she said, “we want to awaken the conscience of society against extremism”.
The movement to repeal the blasphemy law comes three years after the murders of Shahbaz Bhatti, a Catholic minister of minorities, and of Salman Taseer, the Muslim governor of Punjab, for defending Asia Bibi, a Catholic woman accused and sentenced to death for blasphemy. Sherry Rehman, who had brought in parliament a bill to reform the law, had been seriously threatened.
“The law has caused immense suffering and death of innocent people. Changing the law is essential to justice and the rule of law in the nation”, said Dominican Father James Channan, head of the “Peace Center” in Lahore in an interview with Fides.
Former president of Pakistan, Ali Zardari, has called for “a review of the legislation passed under the dictatorship of Zia-ul-Haq”, and the blasphemy law is among these measures.
Christians, Muslims and Hindus have been holding large, peaceful demonstrations in Lahore against the abuse of the blasphemy laws in the country.
Representatives of the “Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf” (PTI) party were among those protesting, saying that most of the blasphemy laws affect the innocent.
The demonstration criticized the inaction of the government of the “Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) for not doing enough to protect the accused, especially those who are religious minorities.
Meanwhile, Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif recently met with British Prime Minister David Cameron in London where the issue of blasphemy laws was raised.
According to official data, over the last 15 years, 1,274 people have been charged under the blasphemy law in Pakistan, while only 9 cases were reported between 1929 and 1982.
According to the latest report of the U.S. Commission for International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), 14 people are on death row in Pakistan and 19 sentenced to life imprisonment on the grounds of blasphemy.