06/21/2006, 00.00
PAKISTAN

Government silent as blasphemy law continues to kill, say Pakistani bishops

In a statement released by the Justice and Peace Commission of the Bishops' Conference of Pakistan the government's negligence vis-à-vis crimes committed in the name of religion and on the basis of blasphemy laws is described as a "real sin".

Lahore (AsiaNews) – The Justice and Peace Commission of the Bishops' Conference of Pakistan has expressed "profound concern" for the evident negligence by the authorities and elected officials who should uphold the law regarding the growing intolerance associated with blasphemy laws.

Fr Emmanuel Yousaf and Peter Jacob, respectively director and executive secretary of the bishops' commission, said in a joint statement that "the horrible murder of Mohammad Sadiq, an elderly school teacher killed last Sunday whilst trying to save someone else from the blasphemy laws, and that of Abdul Sattar, who was killed the next day when he was under police protection, underscore the alarming level of insecurity Pakistani citizens feel as a result of the abuse of religion".

"It is extremely sad that two other lives were sacrificed owing to a legislative void created by the blasphemy laws," the added.

"In the first case we have a respected citizen killed by the people of Hasilpur whilst trying to rescue from a lynch mob the imam of the local mosque, Hafiz Mohammad Qamar, who was being tortured by some miscreants."

"In the second," the statement reads, "we have a man who gets himself killed for allegedly insulting the prophet when in fact all he wanted was a driver to pay his fee."

The so-called blasphemy law or laws refer to article 295, sections B and C, of the Pakistan Criminal Code. The first section covers offences against the Qur'an, a crime punishable with life in prison. The second section imposes either the death penalty or life in prison on anyone found guilty of defaming the Prophet Muhammad.

Since 1996 when the two sections came into effect, a lot of Christians have been killed for defaming Islam. Altogether some 560 people have been charged with 30 still waiting for trial.

Very often the law is used to eliminate adversaries.

According to data provided by different human rights groups, 23 people have died as a result of blasphemy charges, 18 of whom were Muslim. In each case law enforcement authorities did not intervene to stop the murder.

"It is a real sin that the government has allowed this kind of 'unlawful legality' to exist in name of religion, abdicating its duty to tell the people how often the law is misused," the statement said.

"It is important that those guilty of these crimes be brought to justice. For this reason, we call for an immediate inquiry to unmask those responsible for this situation."

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