Religious leaders seek inquiry into misuse of Pakistan blasphemy law

By Kristine Greenaway
Posted Sep 20, 2012

[Ecumenical News International, Geneva] Christian, Muslim and Hindu leaders from Pakistan attending an international hearing on Pakistan’s blasphemy law said the law is leading to “blatant violations of human rights” and called for the government of Pakistan to investigate misuse of the law.

About 90 participants from Asia, Africa, Europe, and North America, including Christian, Muslim and Hindu representatives from religious groups and human rights groups in Pakistan, attended the hearing at Geneva’s Ecumenical Centre from Sept. 17-19.

“Tinkering with procedural amendments has not delivered,” said a communique issued on Sept. 19 “Therefore, we urge the government to constitute a competent Inquiry Commission immediately to look into the tragic consequences of the blasphemy law and suggest a way out of this difficult and embarrassing situation.”

The International Hearing on Misuse of Blasphemy Law and Rights of Religious Minorities in Pakistan was hosted by the World Council of Churches’ (WCC) Commission of the Churches on International Affairs (CCIA). It was called to analyze the rise of religious fundamentalism and extremism and to seek effective response to the mounting number of cases of abuse of religious minority rights in Pakistan.

The law includes clauses making criticism or desecration of Islam or the Prophet Muhammad a crime, in some cases punishable by death. Participants were told by Pakistani church and human rights advocates that although the death penalty has not yet been carried out, accused persons have been killed by mobs or forced into hiding, even if acquitted of the charges against them.

Commentators in Pakistan have said the law is often misused, and people falsely accused, in disputes over business or property rights. The latest case, of a teenage girl accused of allegedly burning pages of the Quran, Islam’s holy book, has caused widespread outcry.

The hearing coincided with meetings in Geneva of the U.N. Human Rights Council and included time for participants to meet with ambassadors and country mission representatives to raise awareness of human rights abuses due to misuse of the law.

The WCC’s General Secretary, the Rev. Olav Fykse Tveit, welcomed the declaration and committed the WCC to following up on recommendations that fall within the global church organization’s mandate.

Bishop Samuel Azariah, Moderator of the Church of Pakistan and WCC Executive Committee member, declared the results of the hearing “a new beginning for us in Pakistan.”