10/24/2009, 00.00
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Pakistan, a movement to raise awareness against the blasphemy law

by Fareed Khan
The legislation provides for life imprisonment or death for those who profane the Koran or insult the prophet Muhammad. Approved in 1986, it has become an instrument of oppression against religious minorities. Christian activists and human rights groups promote meetings and conferences for its repeal, despite the threats of the fundamentalists.

Islamabad (AsiaNews) - Pakistani civil society representatives are holding  two days of meetings to discuss the controversial blasphemy law, which under the Criminal Code provides for life imprisonment or the death penalty for those who profane the Koran or insult the prophet Muhammad. The first conference is scheduled today in Karachi, the southern province of Sindh, tomorrow will be the turn of Rawalpindi, the northern province of Punjab.  

The activist group People's Resistance (Pr) proposed for today, in Karachi, a panel discussion entitled "The blasphemy law: an objective assessment from a religious, legal and social point of view." The members explain that they are "deeply troubled" about the recent incidents "at Gojra and other places, where many innocent people have suffered shameful violence and destruction”. They want to promote "an open and frank dialogue" aimed at "understanding of the blasphemy law and its implications for our society."

Tomorrow, October 25 in Rawalpindi, another Christian organization - the Pakistan Christian Congress (PCC) - has scheduled a "conference" bringing together "Christians of all sides" to discuss the procedures to be followed for the repeal of Section 295 B and C of the Pakistan Penal Code.  

Nazir Bhatti, president of CCP, said that "the meeting will represent a milestone to launch a peaceful movement of protest, leading to the cancellation of the controversial blasphemy law in Pakistan." Originally the event was to tap three of the most important cities of the country, but following threats by extremists and a situation of extreme political instability, the organizers have decided to limit it to Rawalpindi. "The CCP has suspended the summit in Karachi and Lahore - Nazir Bhatti clarified - in response to intimidation from Islamic fundamentalists."

In mid-October, the Minister of Religious Affairs organized two days of talks in Islamabad on the steps to follow to promote amendments to the law on blasphemy. The summit, however, ended without any concrete results and was postponed to January of 2010.  

According to data from the Catholic Churches National Commission for Justice and Peace (NCJP), from 1986 to August of 2009 at least 964 people were indicted for having desecrated the Koran or defaming the Prophet Muhammad. Of these 479 were Muslims, 119 Christians, 340 Ahmadis, 14 Hindu and 10 from other religions. It also provides a pretext for attacks, personal vendettas or extra-judicial killings: 33 in all, made by individuals or angry crowds.



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