11/10/2009, 00.00
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Pakistan, the only country in the world with a blasphemy law

Peter Jacob, NCJP executive secretary, slams the creation of an “Islamic State” based on a law that strikes minorities as well as Muslims. Groups in government, parliament and the military back fundamentalism. The activist hopes that a “common front” can emerge to “bring democracy to the country”.
Rome (AsiaNews) – In Pakistan, an attempt is underway to create an “Islamic State” that would deny the principle of “equality of its citizens” as intended by the country’s father, Ali Jinnah, in a speech he delivered to the constituent assembly in 1947, said Peter Jacob, executive secretary of the National Commission for Justice and Peace (NCJP) during a press conference organised by AsiaNews on blasphemy. Pakistan is the only country in the world with a “blasphemy law”.

Over the past decades, a number of laws have been adopted that have undermined the values on which the nation was built. The constitution for example ensures that “non-Muslim cannot become president or prime minister.” Indeed, “in some cases, they are denied the right to be judges or trial lawyers,” the Christian activist said. This perpetuates “social and professional discrimination in the workplace, business and public offices.”

The blasphemy laws, he noted, are proof that in Pakistan there is no separation “between state and religion”.  What is more, some groups in government, parliament, the military, police and even the courts “support confessional fundamentalism and ideologies promoted by extremists.”

Peter Jacob slams the widening campaign of violence against religious minorities of the past few decades, which culminated in the introduction in 1986 of the now infamous blasphemy laws by dictator Zia-ul-Haq. Under such laws, anyone who defiles or desecrates the Qur‘an or the name of the Prophet Muhammad can get life in prison or the death penalty.

“Pakistan is the only Muslim country that has this kind of rules. Other nations like Indonesia, Nigeria and Bangladesh are examining whether they too should adopt similar legislation,” he said.

A popular movement bringing together Christians, Hindus, Ahmadis, Sikhs and Muslims, who are also victims of the blasphemy laws, to fight discrimination and violence is not enough. The government must make an effort “to eradicate fundamentalism from the country”. The international community must also be brought on board since it “is already involved on the Afghan front against the Taliban who have found a refuge in inaccessible areas along the border.”

“China and India have already complained about problems caused by extremists along their border,” the NCJP executive secretary said.  “India and Pakistan are also two nuclear powers,” he noted, and “a crisis in South Asia” could have consequences “at a global level”.

In order to mobilise public opinion, promote a campaign to abolish the blasphemy laws and fight fundamentalism, NCJP activists have organised a series of conferences in a number of European countries, including France, Belgium and the Netherlands.

“The battle for democracy in Pakistan must be backed by a common front that includes the government, the Christian minority and the international community. It must lead to legal and constitutional reforms that protect democratic principles and respect human rights.” (DS)

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