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Debate over Pakistan Blasphemy Laws features on Pakistan TV
Human Rights Organization calls for repeal of these controversial laws

By Sheraz Khurram Khan
4/24/08 PAKISTAN (ANS) — Mr. Ardeshir Cowasjee, a renowned Pakistani analyst and columnist of leading daily English language newspaper “Dawn”, has called for repeal of Pakistan controversial blasphemy laws.

He made this statement in a talk show carried on the private TV channel “Business Plus.”

Criticizing the killing of a young Hindu man, Jagdeesh Kumar on April 8, the veteran English language columnist dubbed Muslims as “intolerant” and “ignorant.”

Mr. Sohail Johnson, the Chief Coordinator of the Sharing Life Ministry Pakistan (SLMP), told ANS, “The government of the Prime Minister, Syed Yousaf Raza Gillani, should immediately probe this case of the killing of a young Hindu man on the charges of blasphemy. The government must take action before the formation of a probe commission by judges from higher courts”, said.

“The police officers and the factory management that stood by and watched this young man being beaten to death must be brought before the law and punished accordingly,” he added.

Jagdeesh Kumar used to work in a leather factory in the port city of Karachi. He was beaten to death after he was accused of passing sacrilegious remarks against the Prophet Muhammad.

Dr. Miraj ul Huda of Jammat-e-Islami (an Islamic organization), who was also invited on the talk show, was of the view that there was no need for repeal of the blasphemy laws. He called for creation of an atmosphere where nobody should be allowed to commit blasphemy against any religious figure or any of the revealed books.

Nobody should be allowed to pass blasphemous remarks against any religious figure and in particular against the person of Prophet Muhammad, he stressed.

When, Ayesha Tammy Haq, the anchor of the program referred to violence that Pakistan had witnessed in the wake of the printing and reprinting of caricatures of Prophet Muhammad and making of an anti-Quran film, “Fitna” by the far-right Dutch parliamentarian Geert Wilders, Mr. Miraj criticized Pakistan government for not doing the “needful” thing.

He went on to say that only two countries including Iran and Sudan lodged appropriate protest against the said incidents.

Advisor to the Chief Minister Sindh, Gul Muhammad Khan, said his government would try to get the blasphemy laws repealed. Citing unnamed sources, the anchor of the program said she was informed that some fifteen hundred people had killed the Hindu man. She asked Mr. Khan how he would bring such a large number of people to justice. Mr. Khan refuted the claim that such a large number of people were involved in the killing. She said the people who stood by did not do anything to stop the killing that meant that they aided and abetted the killing of the deceased.

Mr. Khan said a couple of people were involved in the killing and that they would be brought to justice.

Stressing the need for cultivating culture of religious tolerance in the country, Ms. Ayesha said there was need to mount efforts to promote religious tolerance on a war-footing basis. She cited acts of pardon by Prophet Muhammad to drive her message home. When she asked her guest speakers whether Pakistan needed blasphemy laws, only Mr. Miraj said Pakistan did need the law. He said people would take the law into their hands in the absence of the blasphemy laws.

Defending Pakistan blasphemy laws, Mr. Miraj maintained that the laws should prevail since it told people of their limits. He said there should be no freedom to abuse, insult or commit blasphemy against religious figures or sacred books. He said the law was in Pakistan Penal Code and hence it should not be repealed. He still maintained his hardened position even when the anchor of the program pointed out the excuse factor. Rage is defense to murder, she said.

Meanwhile, Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW), a UK-based human rights organization, has welcomed Pakistan’s commitment to human rights but has called for a repeal of the blasphemy laws.

CSW welcomed Pakistan’s decision to sign three key international human rights instruments, but urged the Pakistani Government to be bold in ensuring their implementation. CSW also called for the repeal of the blasphemy laws.

Pakistan signed the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the Convention against Torture (CAT) and ratified the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESR) last week.

The CSW news release pointed out that the blasphemy laws, introduced by the dictator Zia ul-Haq in the 1980s, were in direct contravention of the ICCPR, and in particular the provisions for freedom of religion and freedom of expression in Articles 18 and 19.

The blasphemy laws fail to provide an adequate definition of the offence, require no evidence other than the accusation of one person, and contain no proof of intent, it maintained.

The blasphemy laws have been misused by extremists to target religious minorities and by Muslims against each other to settle personal scores. As a result almost all blasphemy charges are completely fabricated, it said.

In 1982, Section 295B made it a specific offence to desecrate the Koran and in 1986 blasphemy against the Prophet Mohammad was made punishable by death or life imprisonment under Section 295C, it informed.

No-one has been executed by the State, but former blasphemy prisoners, even if acquitted, are targeted by extremists and forced into hiding, it regretted.
Over 25 people accused of blasphemy have been killed since 1986, and many face death threats and mob violence during their trial, imprisonment and after their release, said the CSW news release.

Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) National Director, Stuart Windsor, said: “We applaud Pakistan’s move in ratifying these key human rights instruments which uphold the rights of women, children, minorities and the underprivileged.”

“However, this outward commitment to human rights must be accompanied by a move to protect the rights of people, including religious minorities, who are targeted under the blasphemy laws. We urge the Government of Pakistan to repeal these laws and seek also to defend and implement the right to religious freedom in Pakistan,” he said.