02/01/2016, 12.59
PAKISTAN
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Pakistan: Catholics oppose Ulema’s revision of blasphemy laws

by Kamran Chaudhry

The Council for the Islamic ideology has proposed to amend the blasphemy laws in order to bring them into line with the Koran and the Sunna. Catholics fear a further tightening of laws which have already led to violence. Between 1987 and 2014, 166 Christians sentenced to death for insulting Muhammad; another 25 cases in 2015.

 

Lahore (AsiaNews) - The Catholic Church of Pakistan and Christian activists condemn the proposed revision of the blasphemy laws by the Council for Islamic ideology. Catholics are concerned about the initiative which was proposed by the head of the ulema in recent days and finds that an amendment by the Islamic leaders can lead "to a further tightening of such laws", which have already caused hundreds of incidents of violence and death sentences handed down against Catholics and "heretics".

The Catholic Church in Pakistan swiftly rejected Muhammad Khan Sherani’s proposal.  The initiative of the head of the Council was reported by Reuters, according to whom the religious leader said the Council was willing "to reopen cases and examine if judgments were rigorous and the death penalty correctly imposed".

The Council for the Islamic ideology is a constitutional body in Pakistan, which is supposed to advise government regarding compliance of State laws to the dictates of the Koran and the Sunna. In this regard, Sherani said: "The government of Pakistan should defer the blasphemy law to the Islamic Council. On this issue there are different opinions among the religious. That is why the Council can seriously address the matter and say whether it is necessary to confirm the law, tighten it or soften it”.

Christian leaders fear, however, that a review by the ulema could lead to more restrictions against minorities. In Pakistan, many Catholics are tried for blasphemy, often without evidence. There are also numerous incidents of violence against religious groups considered "heretics".

Fr. Emmanuel Yousaf Mani, director of the Justice and Peace Commission of the Bishops' Conference of Pakistan, expresses deep concern about the proposal. "The ulema – he told AsiaNews - may even worsen the law. It is true that there are gaps that need to be addressed and also that sometimes there is an inappropriate use of the law, but we are concerned. These advisory bodies should not exist. The government should adopt their own procedures to change the blasphemy laws. "

Samson Salamat, director of the Center for Human Rights Education, believes that similar bodies "undermine the power of Parliament. If they change the law, nobody will have the chance to change the verdict. We have been asking for some time for the abolition of the current blasphemy laws, but this power cannot be left in the hands of just one body. This is unconstitutional and undemocratic".

He concludes: “We can only accept the opinion of Parliament, representing 182 million Pakistanis. Parliamentarians should discuss this topic and appoint legal experts who can provide critical analysis”.

According to the Justice and Peace Commission, in the period between 1987 and 2014 a total of 166 Christians have been accused of insulting the Koran or Muhammad and have paid with their lives for their alleged guilt.

In 2015 there were 25 cases. The charges affect not only Christians, but also Muslims, Ahmadis, Hindus and members of other confessions. Between 1986 and 2009 at least 964 people were indicted: among them 479 were Muslims; 119 Christians; 340 Ahmadis; 14 Hindu; 10 from other religions.

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