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World News

Moves to make the death penalty the only punishment for blasphemy in Pakistan

by Tola Mbakwe

There are efforts to amend Pakistan's law to make the death penalty the sole punishment for committing blasphemy.

According to Christian persecution watchdog CLAAS, Pakistan's attorney general and provincial advocate general have been issued notices by the Peshawar High Court regarding a petition calling for the removal of all punishments except the death penalty for blasphemy from the country's penal code. 

The petitioner claimed the issue of an alternative punishment of life imprisonment had already been decided by the Federal Shariat Court, but it had not been implemented by federal and provincial governments. 

According to the petitioner, the Federal Shariat Court said an alternative punishment of life imprisonment went against the injunctions of Islam. The person stated it's the responsibility of the respondents to bring all existing laws in conformity with the injunctions of Islam as laid down in the Quran.

Nasir Saeed, director of CLAAS said: "This is not the time to relive the issue of whether the only punishment for those who commit blasphemy should be the death sentence, but this is the time to think about how to stop the misuse of the blasphemy law, as we see everyday how this law is being misused. 

"Since the blasphemy law was amended in 1986, we have seen the unimpeded misuse of this law by individuals and religious groups to achieve their goals and settle their personal grudges, especially against religious minorities.  

"A few years after this law was passed, we started seeing the negative impact of this amendment on society."

The charity, which campaigns against Christian persecution in Pakistan, said the first 'blasphemy murder' took place of the Christian Punjabi poet and teacher Naimat Ahmar in 1992. Then after a few years, thousands of Muslims attacked the Christian village, Shanti Nagar, calling them blasphemers. 

During the attack 785 houses and four churches were destroyed, while 2,500 Christians were also forced to flee their village. 

Nassir added: "Dozens of people have been killed including the Governor of Punjab, Salman Taseer, the only Christian minister Shahbaz Bhatti and Shama and Shahzad who were burnt alive in the brick kiln factory. The killings also continue. 

"Several dozen innocent people are languishing in the country's prisons and it takes them years and years to get justice and prove themselves innocent. 

"Imran Ghafur, Asia Bibi and Wajih-ul-Hassan are just a few examples, and nobody has any remorse, neither the lawmakers nor the courts.

"The need to amend the law was recognised even after a few years. Several governments have pledged to stop its misuse, and even recommended ten years imprisonment for a false accusation, but until today nothing has changed. Instead, voices against the misuse of the blasphemy law have been forced into silence."

He called for Pakistan's government to take appropriate steps to stop the ongoing misuse of the country's blasphemy law.  

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