02/09/2006, 00.00
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Blasphemy law is a tool for Muslim proselytism, says Protestant bishop

by Qaiser Felix
Speaking on a TV show, Rev Malik says that many blasphemy charges are plainly false. They "are just set-ups," he said. "Many Christians are threatened: You either convert to Islam or be judged under the blasphemy laws".

Lahore (AsiaNews) – "There is no need for blasphemy laws in Pakistan;" they are used by Islamic fundamentalist to proselytise among Christians, this according to Rev Alexander John Malik, bishop of Lahore and moderator of the Church of Pakistan, who took part Sunday night in a nationally-televised talk show on one of Pakistan's private networks. The prelate backed his claim by showing that when proselytising was punished by jail sentences, as was the case between 1986 and 1990, there were few blasphemy cases. But when it became a capital offence not only did the number rise considerably but attacks against Christian villages occurred—the burning of Shanti Nagar in 1997 and the havoc wrecked upon Sangla Hill last November are tragic cases in point.

"Many people use the laws against their adversaries and opponents," Bishop Malik said. "Many cases are just set-ups. Many Christians have told us that Muslims threaten them: You either convert to Islam or be judged under the blasphemy laws."

The bishop explained that it was easy and cheap to suborn people into perjuring themselves. Anyone giving false testimony doesn't have to fear much since investigations in such cases don't go very far.

Islamic scholar Muhammad Farooq said that, in blasphemy cases which prove false, courts should not only acquit the falsely accused person but should also impose the same penalty as in proven blasphemy cases on the person who filed the false charges.

"This practice was used in the past," Mr Farooq said, "but nowadays the courts have stopped using it. What is more, high legal fees prevent many of those who are acquitted from countersuing for the lack of money the people those who falsely accused them". Never the less, he urged the falsely accused to turn to the Federal Shariat Court for redress.

Bishop Malik said that that might be difficult. He cited the case of a judge who was murdered because he had accepted to hear a case in which a falsely accused person tried to sue his former accuser. He also cited the case of Mgr John Joseph, the bishop of Faisalabad, who took his own life because no attorney was prepared to take on the defence of Ayub Masih, who was accused of blasphemy.

"The blasphemy laws are generating a climate of insecurity. Many Christians simply want to leave the country because they fear that sooner or later someone is going accusing them [of blasphemy]. But I can say with absolute certainty that no Christian in Pakistan would carry out any act of blasphemy."

During the TV debate, Muhammad Ismail Quraishi, a Muslim attorney, and Farid Ahmad Paracha, a member of parliament, both said the country needed the blasphemy laws.

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