11/24/2005, 00.00
PAKISTAN
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Archbishop of Canterbury: "Musharraf should review blasphemy law"

During his Pakistan visit, the Anglican leader has called on the government to rethink the blasphemy law after the attacks on the Christian community at Sangla Hill.

Islamabad (AsiaNews/Agencies) – The Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, has called on President Musharraf to review the national blasphemy law. Williams is in Pakistan to visit the quake-stricken zones in the north.

The appeal of the Anglican leader comes a few days after violence was perpetrated against the Christian community of Sangla Hill. On 12 November, a crowd of 2,000 Muslims vandalized and then set fire to three churches, a convent of sisters, two Catholic schools, the homes of a Protestant pastor and a parish priest and a hostel for girls, as well as the homes of some Christians.

According to the Islamic community, the violence was sparked by an alleged case of blasphemy: Yousaf Masih, a Christian, was charged with burning some copies of the Koran on 11 November. Both Christian leaders and members of his community defend him: the man is illiterate and unable to distinguish the Koran from other books. For his relatives, the accusation is all down to money matters.

The blasphemy law hands down the death penalty for whoever desecrates the Koran. For the national Christian community, the provision is but an excuse to attack them.

For the Anglican leader, the problem is "not so much about the idea of a law against blasphemy as about a law whose penalty is so severe and whose practice gives so many loopholes to allow people to indulge in arbitrary violence by appealing to blasphemy laws".

The government reaction to the Sangla Hill attacks has been ambivalent: Musharraf condemned the violence against the Christian community however he also denounced the alleged desecration of the Koran.

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