ASIA/PAKISTAN - “The law is unjust and it should be abolished”: Archbishop President of Pakistan’s Conference of Bishops speaks to Fides about law on blasphemy

Thursday, 15 July 2004

Lahore (Agenzia Fides) - “I am not very optimistic about promises to revise the blasphemy law.. There us strong opposition from extremists groups. What is more any amendment must be examined and passed by the Council of Islam. We wait and hope but we are not expecting much”, Archbishop Lawrence Saldanha of Lahore, President of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Pakistan told Fides with regard to a government proposal to revise the country’s blasphemy law.
The government has launched a programme to “amend the penal law ” to modify the crime of honour, the blasphemy law and the Hudud Decree (introduced in 1979) based on the Koran, with punishments such as stoning for adultery, gambling, use of alcohol. In particular, on the basis of the amendment, the “crime of honour” which legitimates the stoning of a women presumed adulterous, would be declared murder.
Archbishop Saldanha said “they are speaking of revision not radical change, but the law is unjust and it should be abolished. The government seems inclined to do so but it has to take into account the people and particularly radical Muslim groups who threaten to react. In the meantime Christians are victims of this unjust law. After recent cases of Samuel Masih and Javed Anjum fear has once again taken hold of Christians”.
With regard to the present situation the Archbishop said: “At the moment there are 80 Christians detained on charges of blasphemy a high number if we think that Pakistan’s Christians make up little more than 1% of the population”.
Archbishop Saldanha also mentioned a report issued recently by the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace Commission of the Pakistan Catholic Bishops’ Conference. “This survey reveals and denounces violation of rights of minorities in Pakistan. The authors want the whole country and the international community to realise what is going on”.
The 150 page report illustrates the condition of workers restrictions, low wages, exploitation, of women and the list of violation of women rights, freedom of religion and expression. According to the report no other law based on religious principles has such devastating consequences as the blasphemy law. The Commission calls for the abolition of laws which discriminate against religious minorities and the establishment of an independent commission with judiciary powers to accept claims and reports from minority groups.
Also Cecil Chaudry, human rights activist in Pakistan, has criticised the Hudud which in the case of a crime of honour “legitimates murder” said Mervyn Thomas, head of Christian Solidarity Worldwide which welcomed the move made by the Pakistan authorities calling on the government to promote harmony and tolerance. (PA) (Agenzia Fides 15/7/2004 lines 48 words 506)