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Pakistan intends to alter blasphemy law

Last Updated: Thursday, February 25, 2010 - 14:56

Islamabad: The Pakistani government plans to change its blasphemy law to check its misuse by extremist groups, officials said on Thursday.
The law, which carries the death penalty for insulting Islam or its prophet, is a highly sensitive issue in Pakistan, which is more than 95 percent Muslim. Previous governments have failed to reform the law because of opposition from powerful hard-line Islamic groups.

Liberal and secular groups have called for the repeal of the blasphemy law altogether, which they say discriminates against religious minorities.

However, the US-allied government of President Asif Ali Zardari, which is fighting an Islamist insurgency, says it plans to reform the law instead.

"We are holding consultative meetings with representatives of minorities and political parties, as well as with Muslim clerics," Minister for Religious Affairs Shahbaz Bhatti said.

"Some elements misuse the law to create violence and disharmony in society. To stop that misuse, we are proposing legislation."

He declined to say when the government planned to propose the changes.

Blasphemy convictions are common in Pakistan, although the death sentence has never been carried out. Most convictions are thrown out on appeal or because of lack of evidence.

However, angry mobs have killed many people, mostly members of religious minorities.

Last year, eight Christians were killed in central Punjab by a mob after blasphemy accusations, which officials said were spread by Islamist extremist groups linked to al Qaeda and the Taliban. Seven of the victims were burned to death.

Bureau Report

First Published: Thursday, February 25, 2010 - 14:56
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