ASIA/PAKISTAN - The Church in Pakistan calls on president Musharraf, today received in audience by the Pope, to abolish the blasphemy law, which is unjust and discriminates against minorities. Bishops’ Justice and Peace Commission denounces situation in ample document sent to Fides

Thursday, 30 September 2004

Lahore (Fides Service) - For some time now the Catholic Church in Pakistan has been asking the government to abolish the Blasphemy Law which is ‘unfair, evil and abused to discriminate against non Muslim minorities and to attack respectable persons. And this request was reiterated on the occasion of the visit of President Pervez Musharraf to Pope John Paul II in the Vatican on September 30. The President has already suggested making changes in the law but these changes will have to be approved by the Islamic Ideology Council.
In a message to Fides the Justice and Peace Commission of the Bishops’ Conference of Pakistan said: “while the Council is deliberating changes in procedure, the destiny of at least 30 Christians and Muslims being tried or waiting for the result of an appeal on charges of blasphemy is still obscure. This means that the defendants and their families continue to suffer despite obvious defects and abuse of the law”.
Peter Jacob head of the Commission, Peter Jacob, told Fides of one exemplary case in Kashmir. Prof. Zahis Hussain Mirza, aged 60 a writer and headmaster of Kaseetpur College has been in prison on charges of blasphemy since June 1999. In the meantime he has developed a serious illness and is being treated for cancer of the stomach. His accuser is Bashir Mustafwi, leader local Muslim, who accuses him of writing blasphemous words in a book “The Prophet’s State”.
The book is published by Markaz Al Dawat Al-Islamia printing press in Rawalpindi. In the book the author mentions the Islamic revivalism position of the Wahabit school on questions of Muslim doctrine. With the permission of the Islamic authorities the book has been printed and sold in Pakistan and in Saudi Arabia and this would confirm the fact that it is not blasphemous. Prof. Zahis Hussain Mirza was found guilty and put in prison and two appeals made in his defence have been rejected. His is now critically ill and his family fear he may die while still in prison.
“This case is incredible. The accused man is respectable and the charges are obviously false. Five years in prison on a charge for which no evidence has been brought forward is unacceptable anywhere in the world. He is being unjustly punished because someone disagreed with his book”.
The national Justice and Peace commission says at least 280 cases have been officially registered from 1987 to 2004 but that at least 560 people have been accused and some have been murdered.
Peter Jacob said: “This proves the negative aspect of the blasphemy law which can be a source of social disharmony when applied to sectors of the community. In fact the law has caused conflict in society, encouraged religious intolerance, cause immense suffering to many families and even many deaths. All our governments since 1988 including the present one have invented excuses to delay the revision of the law. Our question to the government is: how many cases like that of Prof. Zahis Hussain Mirza, will we see before justice in our country is guaranteed?”.
Speaking to Fides on the eve of President Musharraf’s private audience with the Pope, Archbishop Lawrence Saldhana reiterated the local Church’s request to abolish the blasphemy law.
Commenting the government’s proposed bill “Amendments to the penal law” to change the law with regard to crimes of honour, blasphemy and Hudud (introduced in 1979) based on the Koran the Archbishop said: “The bill proposes a revision but no radical changes. This law is unjust and it should be abolished. In the meantime Christians are innocent victims of this unjust law”. The Archbishop said “there are no less than 80 Christians in prison on charges of blasphemy: a very high number considering we are a little more than 1% of the population”.
(PA) (Agenzia Fides 30/9/2004 lines 60 words 670)