09/19/2005, 00.00
PAKISTAN
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Blasphemy 'law' is a death sentence for non Muslims

by Qaiser Felix
Pakistan's non Muslim minorities are determined to challenge the law's constitutionality before the Supreme Court.

Islamabad (AsiaNews) – Pakistan's minorities will challenge Section 295 of the country's Penal Code, better known as the "blasphemy law", before the Supreme Court. This will be done "as soon as possible because this law is used too often to intimidate or punish religious minorities and creates an atmosphere of insecurity and fear," Shahbaz Bhatti, chairman of the All Parties Minorities Alliance (APMA), told AsiaNews. APMA is an umbrella group that brings together and protects the country's religious and ethnic minorities.

"This well-known law is a death sentence for non Muslim citizens of Pakistan," Mr Bhatti said. "For this reason, we have decided to launch a national campaign to challenge it before the Supreme Court."

It is not yet clear when the petition will be submitted because the APMA is waiting for the opinion of the country's top constitutional lawyers.

"The Section does not define blasphemy and so it is open to the interpretation of those who enforce it," said the minority rights activist.

"Figures show that the law is applied for ulterior motives. After subsections B and C (which impose the death penalty for insulting the prophet Muhammad) were added, there has been an irrational rise in sentences," he said. Subsection A is not as harsh: it 'only' entails life sentence for those who "offend the Qur'an".

For Bhatti, the procedural changes the government introduced last year, requiring punishment and sentencing only after blasphemy cases have been proven, are worthless.

In the last three cases, involving Yousaf Masih from Noshera, a Hindu couple from Swabi and Younis Masih from Lahore, charges were brought forth without any evidence. The reason? "The government is under pressure from the extremists," Bhatti said.

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