British Pakistani Christians demand abolition of blasphemy law

LONDON/ISLAMABAD - British Pakistani Christians Tuesday urged Islamabad to abolish the country’s blasphemy law, saying unscrupulous elements had misused it against the minority community to cause law and order problems.

A delegation of the Pakistan Christian Alliance Europe led by councillor James Shera, a former mayor of the central English town of Rugby, met Pakistan High Commissioner Wajid Shamsul Hasan in London and expressed disquiet over the violence against the Christian community in Gojra in Pakistan’s Punjab province that has left seven people dead.

They underscored the importance of addressing the concerns of the Christian community and protecting their lives and property from the religious extremists who they said have used the blasphemy law to perpetuate atrocities on them, APP news agency reported.

The violence erupted over the weekend after the alleged desecration of the Quran at a wedding ceremony. Over 100 houses of Christians were also torched by masked attackers.

The delegation submitted a petition to the high commissioner, appealing for the abolition of religious discriminatory law 95C of the constitution.

Among countries with a Muslim-majority, Pakistan has perhaps the strictest anti-blasphemy laws. The first purpose of those laws is to protect Islamic authority. Several sections of Pakistans criminal code comprise its blasphemy laws. They forbid damaging or defiling a place of worship or a sacred object, forbid outraging religious feelings, forbid defiling the Quran and forbid defaming Prophet Muhammad.

Defiling the Quran merits imprisonment for life, while defaming Prophet Muhammad merits death with or without a fine.

Expressing his deep regret over the Gojra incident, the high commissioner said the federal and provincial governments had taken appropriate steps to bring the situation under control and arrested those responsible for the act.

He also informed the delegation that the government had already announced compensation of Rs.500,000 each for those killed and Rs.300,000 each for those whose homes had been destroyed.

The incident figured in the National Assembly, the lower house of Pakistan’s parliament, Monday with the house unanimously adopting a resolution condemning the attack and calling for stern action against the perpetrators of violence.

The resolution was adopted after a debate on a motion on the incident moved by Parliamentary Affairs Minister Babar Awan.

Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani strongly condemned the incident after speeches from both the opposition and treasury benches and informed the house that the Punjab government had already ordered a judiciary inquiry while orders had been issued for the assessment of the damage caused.

The opposition Pakistan Muslim League-Quaid and a Christian member of the house, Asia Nasir, staged walkouts to protest against alleged negligence of the Gojra administration.

Meanwhile, Minorities’ Affairs Minister Shahbaz Bhatti has held police and local administration officials responsible for the Gojra violence.

Addressing a press conference in Islamabad on Monday, after visiting Gojra on the directions of President Asif Ali Zardari, he said the strength of the police contingent deployed in Gojra was inadequate and a request to summon the paramilitary Pakistan Rangers was ignored.


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