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Pope Benedict Urges Pakistan to Repeal Blasphemy Law

ICC Note

In his address to diplomats, the pope urged Pakistan to repeal its blasphemy law. The law has resulted in persecution of Christians and other religious minorities in the country.

01/10/2011 Pakistan (The New York Times)-In a forceful appeal for religious freedom, Pope Benedict XVI urged Pakistan on Monday to repeal contentious blasphemy laws as he called on governments worldwide to do more to enable Christians to practice their faith without violence, intolerance or restriction.

The pope was speaking in an annual address to diplomats accredited to the Vatican, a long-scheduled event. But this year his words came after bomb attacks in Iraq and Egypt — the most recent in the Egyptian city of Alexandria less than two weeks ago — and the assassination last week of a leading Pakistani politician who had opposed his country’s law that makes blasphemy against Islam punishable by death.

The politician, Salman Taseer, had campaigned against the law and had petitioned the government to re-examine the case of Asia Bibi, a Christian woman who was sentenced to death last November under the legislation.

Referring to the attacks on Christians in Iraq and Egypt, Benedict called on the governments of those predominantly Muslim countries to adopt “effective measures” to better protect religious minorities. Urging Pakistan to repeal its blasphemy law, the pope said the legislation was being used “as a pretext for acts of injustice and violence against religious minorities.”

The pope has often spoken out against religious intolerance, but his condemnations  increased after recent attacks on Christian communities in several countries, including Nigeria and the Philippines, where churches were bombed during the recent holidays.

The concerns have deepened in recent months in the face of what clerics see as sustained violence. After a New Year’s Mass at a  Coptic Christian church in Alexandria, a suicide bomber killed at least 23 people and wounded nearly 100. In October, a siege at a Baghdad church killed 53 people, prompting yet another exodus of Christians from the country.

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