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Pakistan : Repeal of Blasphemy Laws Still a Pipe Dream

ICC Note

Blasphemy laws have caused violence against Christian minorities in Pakistan . Despite call for the repeal of the laws, its unlikely for the government of Pakistan to do so.

By Zofeen Ebrahim

10/06/2009 Pakistan (IPS) – It is a never-ending saga.

Every time someone charged with violation of the controversial blasphemy laws is murdered or suffers mistreatment in the hands of an angry mob or individual, calls for their repeal intensify.

Yet concerned sectors are still waiting anxiously for concrete action by the state to stem the tide of religious violence against minority groups who bear the brunt of these laws.

The death of a 20-year-old Christian while in the custody of the police has intensified the campaign against the laws. But clerics are not backing down, insisting the laws should stay.

In 2000, then President Pervez Musharraf promised to repeal the laws. “He retracted when the ‘mullahs’ (religious teachers) threatened protests,” recalled Zohra Yusuf, vice chairperson of the Sindh chapter of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP).

Robert Fanish Masih was arrested around mid-September on blasphemy charges after Muslims went on a rampage in his village, Jaithikey, near Sialkot , close to the Indian border. He was found dead in his cell four days later. Asma Jahangir, the head of the HRCP, called it “death in custody” and held the police authorities responsible for it.

His family and community members were forced to flee the area, where they were also prevented from burying him.

I.A. Rehman, noted rights activist and secretary general of the HRCP, told IPS “(neither) the present government (nor any) government in Pakistan is likely to have the courage to repeal the blasphemy laws”. He added that “the state has committed the folly of making obscurantist fanatics stronger than itself.” Calling for a repeal of the law “is the only rational way out” although “this demand is unlikely to be met.”

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