12/03/2010, 00.00
PAKISTAN
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Christian and Muslim religious leaders call for changes to blasphemy law

by Jibran Khan
At a seminar organised by the Jinnah Institute in Islamabad, representatives of religious groups and civil society call on the government to review sections of the Penal Code and the Code of Penal Procedure that are easily abused. For them, blasphemy accusations are especially used by some for personal vendettas or to discriminate against minorities, as the Asia Bibi case shows.

Islamabad (AsaiNews) – Participants at a seminar titled “The Blasphemy Laws, A call for Review”, organised by the Jinnah Institute on Wednesday, agreed that the blasphemy law is discriminatory and is being used by individuals as a tool for revenge in personal disputes. Christian and Muslim religious leaders as well as representatives of NGOs and civil society were present. Pakistan’s Federal Minority Affairs Minister Shahbaz Bhatti, a Catholic, was also there.

Participants discussed a draft bill by former Federal Minister for Information and Broadcasting Sherry Rehman that would modify sections 295A and C of the Pakistan Penal Code as well as section 298 of the Code of Criminal Procedure.

The bill intends to ensure that all citizens of Pakistan have an equal right to constitutional protection and that miscarriages of justice in the name of blasphemy are avoided at all costs.

“As the law currently stands, the definition of the term blasphemy is vague; yet it carries a mandatory death sentence under section 295 C,” said Mgr Rufin Anthony, bishop of Islamabad-Rawalpindi.

“It is essential not only to remove the teeth and infamous use of the blasphemy laws but to understand the way forward for our society,” he added.

Javed Ahmad Ghamdi, a Muslim religious scholar, also criticised the law for discriminating against minorities. In his view, the law must be reviewed in accordance with the real teachings of Islam so as to prevent judges from using any loopholes. 

According to data from the Catholic Church’s National Commission on Justice and Peace, at least 964 people were charged between 1986 and 2009 with desecrating the Qur‘an or defaming the Prophet Muhammad. They include 479 Muslim, 340 Ahmadis, 119 Christians, 14 Hindus and 10 people from other religions.

The blasphemy law is often used as a pretext for attacks, personal vendettas or extra-judicial murders. Since it came into effect, 33 people have been killed by individuals or angry mobs.

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