Christian Delegation to Pakistan Calls for Repeal of Blasphemy Laws

A delegation to Pakistan from the human rights advocacy group Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) returned this week from a fact-finding visit, during which they met with the Pakistan Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz.

During the visit, the CSW delegation – led by Member of the British Parliament (MP), David Drew, and consisting of CSW's National Director Stuart Windsor, CSW's Advocacy Officer Benedict Rogers and barrister Paul Diamond - presented a letter to the prime minister calling for the repeal of the discriminatory blasphemy laws that have been widely abused by religious extremists.

According to a statement released by CSW today, Drew commented that the visit overall was very significant as they met directly with the country's leaders and appealed for change in their laws against international human rights.

The letter of appeal, which the CSW delegation presented to Prime Minister Aziz at his residence on Sept. 3, urged him to do more to protect religious minorities in Pakistan.

The delegation also highlighted the need to repeal of the notorious blasphemy laws and the Hudood Ordinances.

"The abuse of such laws creates a poor image for your country," the delegation told the Prime Minister. “Their repeal would send a strong signal to the international community that Pakistan is truly a place of 'enlightened moderation' and the rule of law.”

Although Prime Minister Aziz has not responded directly to the repeal of the blasphemy laws, he told the delegation, "The single most important thing we can do today is to promote interfaith harmony. If we all work hard at this, the world will be a better place."

Drew said after the visit, "We need now to re-double our efforts and work with reformists in Pakistan, and our own governments, to make that change a reality."

Stuart Windsor commented that last week’s visit was the most important visit the organization has made to Pakistan.

"We were truly able to give the persecuted religious minorities a voice at a high level, and we now aim to build on this in the future. We urge the international community to put the repeal of the blasphemy laws in Pakistan higher up the agenda," the CSW National Director added.

Under the Blasphemy Law of Pakistan, which was first adopted in 1986, offending the Qu’ran is punishable with life imprisonment while insulting Mohammed is considered a capital crime punishable by death.

As the laws only require the testimony of one Muslim man to bring charges against another person for blasphemy, they have been easily and widely misused. Especially in the predominantly Muslim Pakistan, many Christian minorities are victimized under the hands of Islamic extremists.

According to a study by the Justice and Peace Commission of the Roman Catholic Church in Pakistan released May 8, 2005, even though the higher courts in Pakistan have acquitted those accused of blasphemy in 102 cases on appeal after lower courts sentenced them, still 20 blasphemy-accused individuals, including six Christians have been murdered during their trials.

In light of these reports, the blasphemy laws have provoked a massive campaign of the international human rights watchdogs last year, which called for a major amendment to the laws to limit possibility of abuses.

On Oct. 26, 2004, an amendment was finally adopted that restricts the investigation of blasphemy cases to senior police officers only. However, the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, Catholic and Protestant leaders all expressed that the changes were inadequate.

CSW believes the recent visit by its delegation may revive the international campaign on repealing the discriminatory blasphemy laws.