ASIA/PAKISTAN - The campaign against the blasphemy law awakens

Monday, 5 May 2014

Lahore (Agenzia Fides) – There are signs of awakening with regards to the awareness campaign and protest against the blasphemy law in Pakistan. The controversial "black law" (which consists of three articles of the Criminal Code), punishes the offence to Islam, the Koran and the Prophet Muhammad by life imprisonment and death penalty. The dissenting voices of religious leaders, civil society, of politics, had been brutally silenced with the murders of Shahbaz Bhatti, a Catholic minister of minorities, and of Salman Taseer, the Muslim governor of Punjab, both killed in 2011 because they had defended Asia Bibi, a Catholic woman accused and unjustly sentenced to death for blasphemy. Also the parliamentary Sherry Rehman, who had brought in parliament a bill to reform the law, had been seriously threatened. With the appointment as Pakistani ambassador to the U.S., Rehman then left the country.
Today, three years after those strong moments of tension, some organizations return to openly ask for the repeal of the law: "It is the root of many evils in Pakistan, human rights abuses, violence and discrimination. This is why it should be abolished", explains in an interview with Fides lawyer Mushtaq Gill, head of the NGO Christian LEAD, who officially launched a new abolitionist campaign. "Even if we are threatened by this - refers Gill - we want to awaken the conscience of society against extremism". The Dominican, Fr. James Channan, head of the "Peace Center" in Lahore agrees and tells Fides: "The law has caused immense suffering and death of innocent people. Changing the law is essential to justice and the rule of law in the nation".
In recent days, the former president of the country, Ali Zardari called for "a review of the legislation passed under the dictatorship of Zia-ul-Haq", and the blasphemy law is among these measures. At a popular level, in past weeks a large number of Christians, Muslims and Hindus held a peaceful demonstration in Lahore against the abuse of the blasphemy laws in the country. Among the protesters there were also some representatives of the"Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf" (PTI) party, who recalled how, in most cases, the sentences for blasphemy strike innocent people. The demonstration criticized the inaction of the government of the "Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), which does very little to protect the citizens accused, especially if members of religious minorities.
At an international level, the Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, on a visit to London last week, met with British Prime Minister David Cameron, who raised the issue of blasphemy with him, which is harmful to the international reputation of Pakistan.
According to official data, over the last 15 years, 1,274 people have been charged under the blasphemy law in Pakistan, while only 9 cases were reported between 1929 and 1982. As reported in the latest report of the U.S. Commission for International Religious Freedom (USCIRF ), in Pakistan there are currently 14 people on death row and 19 sentenced to life imprisonment on the grounds of blasphemy. (PA) (Agenzia Fides 05/05/2014)