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BosNewsLife (02/27/06) – Lawyers defending people accused of blasphemy in Pakistan are facing death threats and physical assaults, BosNewsLife learned Monday, February 27.

Parvez Aslam Choudhry, lawyer of the acquitted Christian Younis Masih, who was charged with blasphemy, “received numerous anonymous telephone calls,” said Christian Solidarity Worldwide, a religious rights group.

The lawyer was also “physically assaulted outside the court. On January 26 a van drove into his car on his way home from court, causing him minor injuries,” CSW claimed.

Death threats were also given to his client Masih, whose alleged desecration and burning of the Quran led to major riots in the town of Sangla Hill in Punjab province, CSW added. Masih always denied involvement in the desecration of the Quran, regarded by Muslims as a holy book of Islam.

NO FIRST ATTACK

It was not the first attack against lawyer Choudhry, Chairman of a Lahore-based legal group known as “Legal Aid for Destitute and Settlement” (LADS).

“As President of the Christian Lawyers Association and recipient of the Pakistan Minorities Front Bishop John Joseph Award, he has defended many Muslims and non-Muslims accused of blasphemy and has been attacked on several occasions,” CSW claimed.

Cecil Chaudhry, Executive Secretary of the All Pakistan Minorities Alliance (APMA) said in a statement that the case underscored that the blasphemy laws must be repealed. “Almost all accusations of blasphemy are false. But until the laws are repealed, we urge the Pakistani Government to ensure that those who are accused of blasphemy and those who defend them are given proper protection and the norms of justice are followed,” Chaudhry said.

CROWDING COURT ROOMS

“A person is innocent until proven guilty. The government should stop extremists from crowding the court and threatening lawyers and judges. It is the government’s responsibility to ensure that justice is properly implemented.”

CSW’s Chief Executive Mervyn Thomas told BosNewsLife that his organization had urged the “Pakistani Government and police to provide Parvez Choudhry and other lawyers like him with proper protection.” He said it was important to “ensure that those accused of blasphemy are treated as innocent until proven guilty.”

Thomas stressed that extremists “should be regarded as in contempt of court when they threaten and demonstrate inside the court room. Urgent action should be taken to stop the harassment and intimidation of lawyers and those accused.” The Pakistani government has pledged to crack down on Islamic extremism.

TENSE TIME

The threats against lawyers come at a tense time in Pakistan as hundreds of thousands have participated in violent protests against cartoons depicting the Prophet Muhammad which were published in several media.

Among the most recent attacks on February 19, a Muslim mob set fire on two churches at Sukkur, the third largest city of the southern Sindh province, some 480 km (300 miles) north of Karachi. The protest began over the alleged burning of pages of the Quran, Catholics said.

The St. Xavier Protestant Church and St. Mary’s Catholic Church buildings were ransacked and burnt completely while Bibles and other Christian materials were also destroyed, witnesses said.

MORE VIOLENCE

Nationwide protests against the publishing of the cartoons also led to attacks on the Christian Edward College , St. Michael’s Convent School , St. Elizabeth Girls College and a Mission hospital in Peshawar between February 13 and February 15, said the Center for Legal Aid Assistance and Settlement (CLAAS).

In addition a prominent Christian singer, A-Nayyar, was robbed and forced to recite ‘Kalima’, the Islamic creed, on February 16, the All Pakistan Minority Alliance (APMA) and other human rights workers said.

Christians comprise less than 3 percent of Pakistan ‘s over 162-million mainly Muslim people, experts say.