Pakistan blasphemy laws need to be revoked

  • August 24, 2009
{mosimage}Pakistan’s blasphemy law should be re-examined and the government of Pakistan should be held responsible for protecting its Christian minority, the president of the Canadian Islamic Congress told The Catholic Register.

Pakistan’s blasphemy laws are at issue in a mob attack on Christians in the Punjabi village of Gojra July 30 to Aug. 1. Stirred up by local Muslim legal experts, or ulema, about 1,500 Muslims burned six Christians alive and shot another, killing seven in total, according to a report by the National Commission for Justice and Peace of Pakistan’s conference of Catholic bishops.

More than 50 people were injured and 120 houses burned and looted. Two churches were desecrated, according to the report.

Archbishop Lawrence Saldanha of Lahore claims the police did nothing to deter the attack on the Christian community. Saldanha, a former Toronto resident, has renewed the Pakistan church’s call for a repeal of the blasphemy laws, imposed by General Zia-ul-Haq in 1979, which severely punish perceived insults to the prophet Mohammed or the Quran.

 In Canada groups of Pakistani Christians rallied in front of Queen’s Park in Toronto and on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Aug. 8 to protest the attack on Christians.

Blasphemy laws have been used to manipulate people for political ends, said Valiante.

“To keep it on the books is primarily doing something, implementing something that the Quran has never mandated,” Valiante said.

Every country, including Canada, should re-examine its blasphemy laws, she said.

Canada’s law against blasphemous libel has been dormant since the Anglican Church of Canada’s Rev. Victor Rahard was convicted in 1935 for religious libel against the Roman Catholic Church. A similar case today would more likely be tried as hate speech under the Criminal Code, or taken to the Human Rights Commission.

In Britain the common law against blasphemy was abolished in 2008.

In the United States the Islamic Society of North America and the Council of Islamic Organizations of Greater Chicago condemned the Gojra attack.

“Not only do we express our outrage at this behaviour, we deplore those interpreters of Islam and leaders who use rhetoric that promotes a false sense of insecurity and paranoia in Muslim mobs,” said an ISNA statement.

“Violence by Muslims against their Christian neighbours in Gojra, Pakistan, is evil,” said Council of Islamic Organizations of Greater Chicago executive director Junaid Afeef.

“How can anyone not condemn this?” asked Valiante in Canada. “In what context can one justify the killing of Christians or any other minority living in a majority?”

Pakistan’s blasphemy laws are a “sword of Damocles” hanging over Pakistan’s Christians, often used by extremists to foment violence, the Vatican’s nuncio to Pakistan, Archbishop Adolfo Yllana, told L’Osservatore Romano in an interview published Aug. 12.

(With files from CNS)

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