05/20/2008, 00.00
PAKISTAN

New “blasphemy” case, Catholic lawmaker against government

Qaiser Felix
Shahbaz Bhatti, a Catholic member of Pakistan’s National Assembly and chairman of the All Pakistan Minorities Alliance, calls on the government to change the infamous blasphemy law and free Christians jailed on blasphemy charges without evidence. The case of Dr Sardar is particularly serious; he could be hanged because someone wanted to settle a personal score.

Islamabad (AsiaNews) – Christians accused of blasphemy without evidence should be freed immediately and new rules should be adopted to stop the abusive use of the law that punishes anyone who defiles Muhammad or Islam, this according to Shahbaz Bhatti, a Catholic member of Pakistan’s National Assembly and chairman of the All Pakistan Minorities Alliance. Dr Robin Sardar is the first who should be freed, Mr Bhatti said, because he was jailed after being accused of blasphemy to settle a personal score.

Dr Sardar’s situation is serious. The Christian doctor was arrested on 5 May in the village of Hafizabad where he was accused of insulting Muhammad. No evidence was presented but the “police still registered the case because of extremist elements’ pressure,” Bhatti said “which is completely illegal and shows the influence of extremists who can easily pressurize the police, too. Extremists want him to hang even though there is no evidence against him.”

For the Catholic activist, this case shows how article 295 of Pakistan’s Penal Code, popularly known as blasphemy law, can be abused. Under its terms anyone who defiles Islam, Muhammad or the Qur’an can be sentenced to life in prison or get the death penalty. Even though so far no real evidence has been brought before a court in any pending case, the fact that such an unjust law is still on the books is sufficient to threaten minorities. And Dr Sardar’s case clearly shows how the law can be manipulated.

Mr Bhatti said that a Muslim man, Muhammad Bashir, who worked for some time at Dr Sardar’s clinic, lost his job for conducting religious propaganda inside the health centre despite receiving several warnings to stop. His reaction was to accuse the doctor of insulting Muhammad and police believed him.

About 25 people have died since the blasphemy law was introduced, not because they were tried by a court of law, sentenced and executed but because they were lynched by religious extremists, in some cases even when the accused was in police custody.

“This,’ Bhatti, “shows that the law must change as soon as possible. Otherwise any accusation can kill you here.”

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See also
Another Christian imprisoned for “blasphemy”
26/01/2007
Christian doctor accused of anti-Islam blasphemy freed (but in hiding)
12/11/2008
Christian charged with blasphemy released
10/08/2005
A Christian man and his daughter arrested, almost lynched for blasphemy
13/10/2008
Minorities against the blasphemous and satanic Da Vinci Code
24/05/2006