World Council of Churches Urges Revision of Pakistan's 'Abusive' Blasphemy Laws

The World Council of Churches (WCC), a worldwide fellowship of churches, began a public hearing in Geneva, Switzerland on Monday to discuss mob lynchings, persecution of Christians and the harsh blasphemy laws in Pakistan that are used to target all religions outside of Islam.

"In Pakistan, we are fighting against the blasphemy law and its abuse," said Mohammed Tahseen of campaign group the South Asia Partnership. The WCC added that Pakistan's blasphemy laws put the country's minority Christian and Hindu populations in great risk.

The conference also highlighted the recent case of a 10-year old Christian Pakistani girl who was imprisoned and even faced a possible death penalty after she was accused of blasphemy for allegedly burning pages of the Quran, but it could not be established if she herself committed the offense, Reuters noted. The girl, Rifta Masih, has since been released on $10,000 bail, but her future remains in doubt.

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"The misuse of blasphemy law is contrary to the vision of Pakistan as a moderate and democratic country," Tahseen continued at the conference.

"The religious voices, as part of the civil society must reject the concept of second class citizenship, asserting equality of all human beings in a democracy," he added.

Christians in Pakistan account for roughly 2,800,000 people, or 1.6 percent of the population. In response to the blasphemy laws, some have even called for Christians to get their own separate province in the South Asian country, although it is unlikely that the government will grant such a request.

It has been acknowledged, however, that many in the Muslim community in Pakistan not only do not want the blasphemy law removed, but in fact want one that would "cover the entire world." Islamic religious leaders have called upon international pacts and the U.N. to criminalize insults to Islamic religious symbols, which is reminiscent of the recent protests raging on the Middle East where several U.S. embassies have been attacked over a privately-produced U.S. film that depicts Muhammad, the founding prophet of Islam, in a very negative light.

"We must go back to the vision of our founder Mohammed Ali Jinnah, who stressed on the rights of all people, regardless of their religion," said Asiya Nasir, a member of the National Assembly in Pakistan. Nasir is the only Christian woman representing the Assembly of Islamic Clergy in the Pakistani parliament, the WCC noted.

WCC general secretary the Rev. Dr. Olav Fykse Tveit added: "Reports from Pakistan reveal the fact that repression, intolerance, and fear have become the order of the day in many parts of the country. The minority communities in Pakistan continue to suffer because of the misuse of the blasphemy law in Pakistan, which is used to target different minority communities."

"As we continue to follow with concern the use of blasphemy law against members of religious minorities in Pakistan, it is high time that the international community should address this issue with urgency," he added.

The public hearing, which was part of WCC's efforts to help persecuted religious minorities in Pakistan, will continue until Wednesday, Sept. 19 and the issue will be brought up at the United Nations office in Geneva.

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