10/12/2004, 00.00
PAKISTAN
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Violence against the mentally disabled accused of blasphemy

by Qaiser Felix

Christian physicians and lawyers say that Islam is being used to discriminate against disabled people.

Lahore (AsiaNews) – Pakistan's Blasphemy Law is used against people with disabilities, including the mentally disabled.  Shahbaz Masih Kaka, a 26-year-old Catholic from Lahore, was accused of blasphemy despite being visibly disabled. He was a long-term care patient in a Lahore hospital until accusations by a Muslim cleric led to his arrest and incarceration.

Khalil Tahir, a Christian attorney and chairman of Action against discriminatory laws (Adal Trust), has taken up Masih's case and urged the government to repeal the blasphemy laws, including the Hudood Ordinance. The latter was adopted in 1979 by then military ruler General Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq in collaboration with religious fundamentalists and is based on the Qu'ran and the Sunnah.

Speaking to AsiaNews Khalil Tahir said the laws were "inhuman, a naked sword hanging over minorities who live in conditions of destitution and marginalisation". He added that "these laws are a violation of basic human rights and UN's Universal Declaration of Human Rights and [that] there is no need for them in Pakistan".

Mr Tahir explained that his group wants the blasphemy laws totally abolished. "We will not accept just any change in the law," he stressed, "since those accused under this law, whether falsely or not, are not guaranteed security and protection when they are in police custody".

Pervez Ahmad, a psychiatrist from the Mental Hospital Lahore, also believes Shahbaz Masih Kaka should go free saying that he was mentally unfit and could not be punished under to the law.

Efforts by medical professionals and lawyers were not however successful. Masih's arrest was confirmed and since September 25 he has been behind bars at a Faisalabad prison.

Khalil Tahir has also been campaigning for women's rights whose situation has been going from bad to worse in the last few years.

Noma, a 17-year-old Catholic woman with a severe mental handicap, was repeatedly raped by Muhammad Shaukat, a Muslim man employed by the young woman's family. Only when her mother found out that she was pregnant did the sexual abuse come to light.  By then, it was too late because the alleged rapist was gone. The police investigation has so far led nowhere. 

Muhammad Shaukat is still a free man, but Noma's mother died on September 3. Thanks to the intervention of Mgr Joseph Coutts, Archbishop of Faisalabad, the young woman found shelter in a Women's Centre in Lahore.

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