Pakistan to loosen blasphemy laws

A senior Pakistani government official has indicated that the country's harsh blasphemy laws, which Christians and rights groups say are used by Muslims to oppress minorities, will be modified after the forthcoming national elections.

The Pakistan Daily Times quotes Senator Mushahid Hussain Sayed as saying that the law, which allows up to the death penalty for insulting Islam, would be changed after a general election due late this year or early next year.

President General Pervez Musharraf tried to reform the law in 2000, months after he took power in a bloodless coup, but had to drop that plan after widespread protests from powerful Islamic religious parties.

After detailing at a Paris academic conference steps taken to improve conditions for religious minorities, the senator was asked when Islamabad would reform the blasphemy law.

"Inshallah (God willing), after the election," said Hussain, secretary general of the governing Pakistan Muslim League party and chairman of the Pakistan Senate's foreign affairs committee. "We don't want to hand another election issue to our 'friends'," he said, referring to the opposition Islamic parties. He did not detail how the law would be changed.

According to the Daily Times, Pakistani religious parties fiercely opposed a reform passed last November that curbed the scope of Islamic laws which had made it impossible for women to accuse men of raping them.

That reform removed rape from the religious laws introduced by General Ziaul Haq in 1979 in his drive to impose Islamic law and made it a civil crime.

A blasphemy law left over from the British colonial period was sharpened in 1980 to cover a wide array of possible insults to Islam and its maximum penalty was boosted to death in 1982.

Christians, who comprise less than three percent of the overwhelmingly Muslim population of 150 million, have long complained about the law because it gives no protection to a minority member accused by a Muslim of violations such as tearing a page of the Koran.

In another story, AsiaNews reports that Peshawar High Court yesterday gave the green light to the construction of a church inside Peshawar's non-denominational university.

In a ruling welcomed by Pakistan's Christian community as "a positive example of promoting interfaith harmony in the country", the petition filed by Muslim students to stop the construction has been rejected by judges on the grounds that Islam and Pakistan's constitution guarantee religious freedom and respect for minorities.

"This is good news for Christians," said activist Nadeem Anthony. "The petition filed by the two young men is representative of an intolerant mindset and a destructive approach to coexistence."

Blasphemy law will be changed, says Mushahid (Daily Times, Pakistan, 24/1/07)
Peshawar High Court okays church building inside university (AsiaNews, 24/1/07)

LINKS (not necessarily endorsed by Church Resources)
Senator Mushahid Hussain Sayed website

Pakistan bishop urges repeal of death sentence for blasphemy (CathNews, 23/7/06)
Pakistan president seeks review of blasphemy laws (CathNews, 21/5/06)
Pakistani Christian dies after prison beating (CathNews, 2/6/04)
Another Christian's blasphemy trial commences in Pakistan (Cathnews, 25/7/03)

25 Jan 2007

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