Pakistani Christians Give Gov't Ultimatum on Blasphemy Laws

Christians have given an ultimatum to the Pakistani government to repeal the country's blasphemy laws which they say are responsible for the attacks against Christians.

"We urge President Asif Zardari to repeal blasphemy law by an executive order immediately. If government fails to repeal blasphemy law up till September 25, 2009 ... Christians shall be forced to launch a movement against government of Pakistan: Pakistan Christian Congress PCC," said Pakistan Christian Post, which has been at the forefront of calling for the repeal of blasphemy laws in the country.

According to amendments added in the 1980s, "Use of derogatory remarks, etc; in respect of the Holy Prophet; whoever by words, either spoken or written or by visible representation, or by any imputation, innuendo, or insinuation, directly or indirectly, defiles the sacred name of the Holy Prophet Mohammed shall be punished with death, or imprisonment for life, and shall also be liable to fine."

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Pakistan Christian Congress (PCC), a political party launched by Pakistani Christians, has blamed the 1986 blasphemy law for the violence against the Christian community. "On several occasions, on the pretext of blasphemy, Christians have been attacked, pastors and priests arrested, women raped and homes burnt," PCC has said.

Under the protection of these controversial laws, Muslims have regularly attacked Christians with impunity in Pakistan. And often the motivation for the attack is over monetary disputes or other everyday disagreements. Muslims would use the blasphemy laws, which do not require evidence, to escape any punishment for attacking their fellow citizen.

PCC noted that prior to 1980 there were almost no allegations of blasphemy.

In the past two months alone there were four attacks against Christians which prompted an international outcry. PCC called for the repeal of the blasphemy laws.

On July 29, thousands of Muslims raided a Christian village in the Punjab province after a Christian family was accused of desecrating the Qur'an. Over 60 houses and two churches were destroyed and authorities said the allegation was found to be untrue.

On Aug. 1, a Muslim mob attacked Christian homes and burned over 50 homes in Gojra city in Punjab province. Eight people were killed.

On Aug. 4, a factory owner and two other were killed when workers from his plant attacked them near Lahore, for allegedly desecrating the holy Quran.

And on Aug.10, 18-year-old Safian Masih from Gujranwala city in Punjab province was imprisoned on what International Christian Concern calls a "false charge."

Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani promised Christians on August 6 that the government would review blasphemy laws that balk religious harmony in the country.

"A committee comprising constitutional experts, the minister for minorities, the religious affairs minister and other representatives will discuss the laws detrimental to religious harmony to sort out how they could be improved," Gilani told a gathering in Gojra, according to The Associated Press. Christians want quick action to be taken.

Pakistani Christians from the United Kingdom, the United States, France and several other countries have also lent their support, protesting against the killing and series of attacks against Christians.

Pakistan is ranked No. 13 on the Open Doors World Watch List of the world's worst persecutors of Christians.

Christians comprise less than 5 percent of the estimated 176 million people in Pakistan. Sunni Muslims make up about 75 percent and Shias account for about 20 percent.

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