Saturday, February 05, 2011

Pakistan: Minority Rights Group says blasphemy law targets minorities and should be repealed

Source: Minority Rights Group International (MRG)

Minority Rights Group International said on Friday that it was deeply disappointed at the failed efforts to amend Pakistan's blasphemy law, which discriminates against and targets religious minorities.

'This law poses a serious threat to Pakistan's religious minorities and should be removed,' says Carl Soderbergh, Director of Policy and Communications.

'It is shocking that attempts to amend it have failed, let alone its repeal,' Soderbergh adds.

Media reports on Wednesday stated that MP Sherry Rehman of the Pakistan's Peoples Party, who had proposed the amendments in a private member's bill, announced that she will not pursue the legislative process. She is reported to have taken the decision after Pakistan's Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani said there was no scope for discussion on changing the law. The Prime Minister had asked Muslim clergy on Wednesday to help prevent its misuse.

Many members of religious minorities in Pakistan, especially Christians and Ahmadiyya, have been persecuted under this law. Over the years, hundreds of people have been charged under its provisions. One of the most prominent recent cases is that of Aasia Bibi, a Christian woman who is facing the death sentence for allegedly blaspheming against the prophet Muhammad. She has denied the charge. The death penalty is mandatory for blasphemy under section 295-C of Pakistan's Penal Code.

There have been several protests by some Islamic groups against attempts to change or repeal the various provisions of section 295. In January, the governor of Punjab province, Salman Taseer, was shot dead by his body guard because he supported amending the law. MP Rehman has also reportedly received several death threats.

'As long as the blasphemy provisions remain on the statute books, they provide legitimacy to groups who use violent means to oppress minorities. The government's position provides a green light to vigilantism,' Soderbergh concluded.

For more information on the situation of religious minorities in Pakistan also read the Asia chapter in MRG's State of the World's Minorities 2010.