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Factbox: Pakistan’s blasphemy law strikes fear in minorities

ICC Note

Pakistan’s blasphemy law is one of the main causes of persecution against Christians and other religious minorities in the country. The law has resulted in killing of several Christians by Islamists.

2011/01/05 Pakistan (Reuters) – Pakistan’s anti-blasphemy law has been in the spotlight since November when a court sentenced a Christian mother of four to death, in a case that has exposed deep rifts in the troubled Muslim nation of more than 170 million people.

While liberal Pakistanis and rights groups believe the law to be dangerously discriminatory against the country’s tiny minority groups, Asia Bibi’s case has become a lightning rod for the country’s religious right.

On Tuesday, the governor of the most populous state of Punjab, Salman Taseer, who had strongly opposed the law and sought presidential pardon for the 45-year-old Christian farmhand, was gunned down by one of his bodyguards.

Here some facts about the blasphemy law and its fallout.

* Under the law, anyone who speaks ill of Islam and the Prophet Mohammad commits a crime and faces the death penalty but activists say the vague terminology has led to its misuse. The law stipulates that “derogatory remarks, etc., in respect of the Holy Prophet either spoken or written, or by visible representation, or by any imputation, innuendo or insinuation, directly or indirectly shall be punished with death, or imprisonment for life, and shall also be liable to fine.

* Christians who make up 4 percent of Pakistan’s population have been especially concerned about the law saying it offers them no protection. Convictions hinge on witness testimony and often these are linked to personal vendettas, they say.

* In 2009, 40 houses and a church were set ablaze by a mob of 1,000 Muslims in the town of Gojra, Punjab. At least seven Christians were burned to death. The attacks were triggered by reports of the desecration of the Koran. Police had already registered a case under Section 295C against three Christians for blasphemy.

Last July, two Christian brothers accused of writing a blasphemous letter against the Prophet Mohammad were gunned down outside a court in the eastern city of Faisalabad.

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