Pakistani Christians welcome chance of blasphemy debate

Pakistani Christians welcome chance of blasphemy debate

Christian leaders in Pakistan have welcomed suggestions by Muhammad Khan Sherani, President of the Islamic Ideology Council, that the country’s repressive blasphemy might be amended. While there is a possibility that the already strict law could be made more censorious, Christian activist Nasir Saeed, director of the Centre for Legal Aid, Assistance and Settlement, said “President Sherani’s words are encouraging, given that until a few years ago one could not even discuss this law”.

Until a November Supreme Court decision, even criticising or challenging the law constituted blasphemy against Islam, a legal position that stifled debate on the issue.

Lahore’s Archbishop Sebastian Shaw said Pakistan’s bishops “welcome the reflection and steps taken by the council”.

Expressing the “hope that an amendment of the blasphemy law, to prevent further abuse, is imminent”, Dr Shaw said “the abuse of the law, used for other purposes, hurts many Muslim and Christian Pakistani citizens, and all religions, unjustly destroying the lives of many innocent people.”

Such abuse is far from uncommon, according to Catholic Peter Jacob, director of the Centre for Social Justice, citing research from the Karachi-based Legal Aid Society which demonstrated that most reported cases of alleged blasphemy were based on false charges arising from personal vendettas. Other research, he said, showed that of 25 High Court acquittals, 15 were due to the accusations having been fabricated.

“Parliament must take this issue seriously,” he said, continuing, “The fight against hate speech becomes impossible to win if there exists a blasphemy law which is technically defective.”