09/08/2005, 00.00
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Muslim activity: Blasphemy laws negate the dream of a moderate Pakistan

by Qaiser Felix

Munawar Ali Shahid reacts to the recent arrest of a Hindu couple in North Western Frontier Province, who were accused of desecrating the Koran.

Lahore (AsiaNews) – The dream of a moderate and progressive Pakistan – upheld by President Musharraf – will never become reality as long as discriminatory legislation like the blasphemy laws remain in force. These are the words of a Pakistani Muslim, a Lahore-based human rights activist and editor called Munawar Ali Shahid. In an interview with AsiaNews, the campaigner reacted to the latest case of arrest for blasphemy which took place on 3 September in Gandaf village, 150km from Peshawar,  capital of the North Western Frontier Province (NWFP). The police arrested a Hindu couple, Chaman Lal and his wife Krishna for alleged desecration of the Koran. A man named Saeedullah found a copy of the Koran in the fields and he told the village council he suspected Chaman Lal and Krishna. A crowd of villagers marched on Chaman Lal's house but he had already fled with his family. The protesters carried sticks and raised slogans demanding that the couple be handed over to them. Police said the couple had been arrested and other members of the family had been transferred to an undisclosed location for their own safety. To appease the tense situation in Gandaf, security forces were rushed from the frontier to help police.Lal's family has been living in Gandaf village for the last 120 years. He converted to Islam seven years ago but his wife allegedly forced him to give up Islam and return to Hinduism. 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.

"If the central government is really interested in making Pakistan a moderate and democratic country then it has to revoke all discriminatory laws and curb all radical religious groups in the country as soon as possible," said Shahid. And it should "deal decisively with cases like the episode in Gandaf village".

Shahid said "cases like Chaman Lal and many others as well as the extremist stand of the NWFP government, run by the Islamic coalition of Mutahida Majlis-i-Amal, are wrong and they give Pakistan a negative international image. All religious minorities in Pakistan feel insecure. While discriminatory laws exist in the constitution, the dream of a moderate and progressive state cannot materialize".

Cecil Chaudhry, vice chairman, Christian Organization for Social Action in Pakistan (COSAP), said the accusations levelled against the Hindu couple were "false" and he denounced abuses of the blasphemy law in Pakistan. He told AsiaNews: "The law is increasingly being used to settle personal disputes. This misuse will continue until the law section is completely abrogated (and not amended as the government did last year)."

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