09/14/2005, 00.00
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Lahore Archbishop condemns the umpteenth arrest of a Christian for blasphemy

by Qaiser Felix

Younis Masih was imprisoned on Sunday, accused of offending Mohammed in some traditional songs. Mgr Saldanha: these episodes stand in the way of endeavours towards inter-religious dialogue

 Lahore (AsiaNews) – The Lahore Archbishop Mgr Lawrence Saldanha has strongly condemned the latest arrest of a Christian in Pakistan for blasphemy and he has once again called for the abrogation of "this discriminatory law".

In an interview with AsiaNews, the archbishop described the arrest of Younis Masih as an incident which is "earning the country a bad name and damaging initiatives towards understanding, harmony and interfaith dialogue".

The police arrested and registered a blasphemy case against Younis Masih, 40, on 10 September, the day after he allegedly made derogatory remarks about the Prophet Mohammad in a Qawali, (a traditional style of singing songs about prophets and saints, particularly on Muslim saints' tombs) which had been arranged by another Christian in Chungi Amer Sidhu. Younis was beaten up by local Christians who wanted him to apologise, and then by an angry mob of Muslims.

On the night of 10 September, some 200 protestors armed with sticks surrounded the police station demanding a case be registered against Younis, and they refused to leave until their request was granted. Meanwhile a group of Muslims damaged the house of Younis and beat up his wife. The following day, 50 Christian families left the area for fear of reprisals and extremist attacks.

According to police officials, Younis was in danger of losing his life even if he was in custody in the lock-up at the police station. After he confessed, he was transferred to Kot Lakhpat jail.

The blasphemy law corresponds with sections B and C of Article 295 of the Pakistani penal code. The first regards offences to the Koran, punishable by life sentence while the second orders the death penalty or life sentence for defaming the prophet Mohammed. The government amended the law in 2004 but changes were only superficial.

Mgr Saldanha said that "amending the law is of no use because extremists continue to use it for their personal ends to try to punish the accused without any proof or investigations. This law creates a sense of fear and insecurity among minorities and the Church demands that it is repealed."

This view is shared by the All Pakistan Minorities Alliance (APMA), National Commission for Justice and Peace (NCJP) and other civil society groups.

Shabbaz Bhatti, APMA president, called on the government to set up a judicial commission to investigate the case "opened without any evidence against Younis". Bhatti also said that none of the men who had attacked the house of Younis had been arrested. As he has already done several times, Bhatti denounced "abuses of this law" which strikes not only minorities but even Muslims themselves in Pakistan. The human rights activist said: "Blasphemy is a vague term and this law is being used for settling personal scores and religious enmities."

Most of those accused of blasphemy and their families risk being murdered by extremists who take justice into their own hands.

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