Anglican Head Calls on Pakistan Prime Minister to Revise Blasphemy Law

The Archbishop of Canterbury called on Pakistan’s prime minister to revise the nation’s blasphemy law this week, saying it has too many loopholes for abuse.

The head of the worldwide Anglican Communion called on Pakistan’s prime minister to revise the nation’s blasphemy law this week, saying it has too many loopholes for abuse.

On Wednesday, the Archbishop of Canterbury Dr Rowan Williams, accompanied by the Bishops of Rawalpindi and Islamabad, as well as his major representative – moderator of the Church of Pakistan Bishop Alexander Malik – met with the Pakistan Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz and some high officials, according to the Pakistan Christian Post.

During the unprecedented meeting, Williams pleaded directly with Musharraf rethink the blasphemy law, which is being widely abused to bring charges against Christians in the predominately Muslim country, BBC reported.

The blasphemy law in Pakistan provides death penalty for defiling Islam or its prophets; life imprisonment for defiling, damaging, or desecrating the Koran; and 10 years' imprisonment for insulting the religious feelings of any citizen.

According to BBC, Williams pointed out that the law was a problem "not so much about the idea of a law against blasphemy as about a law whose penalty is so severe."

Moreover, he complained the law "gives so many loopholes to allow people to settle private scores by appealing to blasphemy laws."

"Pakistan has to tackle this great problem," Williams added.

The Archbishop did, however, acknowledge “the commitment of the [Pakistan] government to the promotion of interfaith harmony" and said he "appreciated the steps taken by Pakistan to safeguard the rights of minorities," according to Pakistan’s official news agency, Associated Press of Pakistan (APP).

Neither the Pakistan’s prime minister nor the president has directly responded to the Archbishop’s concern over blasphemy law so far. Nevertheless, to Williams and his delegates, Aziz emphasized that "Pakistan was a moderate country" where "religious tolerance had increased” and "the government was promoting interfaith harmony," APP reported.

In addition, the prime minister declared that "Islam was a peaceful religion and rejected extremism."

Commenting on extremism, Aziz told the Archbishop’s delegates that "every society had its share of extremists, but such people were a minority in Pakistan. The root cause of extremism is deprivation and illiteracy."

"The government is against all types of terrorism and supports peace, love and affection among its various communities," the prime minister reiterated.

The Archbishop’s concern over the blasphemy law came in the wake of the recent burning of Christian settlements by Muslim mobs in Sangla Hill, west of Lahore, capital of Punjab province two weeks ago.

Muslims accused a local Christian man of blasphemy for burning copies of the Koran. However, the Christian community argued that two Muslims lost money to the Christian man in gambling and tried to use blasphemy law to settle the personal score.

The incident has drawn both national and international outcry for a total repeal of the controversial blasphemy law in Pakistan, although what Archbishop of Canterbury called for was a "reform" of the law.

Last Thursday, backed by the major church leaders in Pakistan, all churches and Christian schools across Pakistan closed down in protest against the government’s failure to protect the minority Christians and religious intolerance. They vowed that if no actions are taken by the government, others forms of protest will be followed.

An appeal letter to Pakistan’s president has been sent and signed by leaders of the Catholic Church in Lahore, the National Council of Churches in Pakistan, the Territorial Commander of the Salvation Army as well as Bishop Malik, Moderator of the Church of Pakistan, who is in Williams’ delegation.

Despite Williams’ efforts, the Pakistan Christian Post reported that the Archbishop’s appeal to the Pakistan government to reform the blasphemy law "failed to gain weight."

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