Friday, June 18, 2010
The aid agency explained on its Web site that 1,000 Pakistanis have been condemned because of their faith due to this law, such as a 5-year-old child who was burned alive for being a Christian, and is calling for support and worldwide prayer for the victims of this law as well as their families.
The petition, which was launched June 7, gathered more than 4,600 signatures in the first week. Supporters can add their signatures to the appeal against the blasphemy law and send messages of support, prayers and donations to the Catholic Church in Pakistan through the Web site.
The petition states: "We appeal to the government of Pakistan to repeal immediately the law on blasphemy, in particular paragraph 295 C of the criminal code, which establishes the death penalty for the offenders; we appeal to the government to guarantee the rights of all religious minorities of the country."
Protect the sacred
Bishop Joseph Coutts of Faisalabad, Pakistan, said that "this law, which should serve to protect the sacred, has been used for some time to oppress and persecute the religious minorities in Pakistan, including Christians," who represent 1.6% of the population.
The prelate, president of the Pakistani bishops' conference Justice and Peace Commission, is calling for the withdrawal of the anti-blasphemy law.
According to the bishop, the problem of the law against blasphemy worsened dramatically in 2001, when anti-Western feeling increased in Pakistan, reaching its peak with recent American interventions in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Bishop Coutts, who works for the rights of the Christian minority of Pakistan as well as interreligious dialogue, has received death threats.
However, he said that "we will not let ourselves be terrified by intimidation; we are going to continue our interfaith activities, for harmony and peace in the country."
The law on blasphemy, which is included in Pakistan's criminal code, allows for imprisonment and even capital punishment for those who are seen as insulting or profaning the name of the prophet Muhammad or the Qur'an.
In 1927, paragraph 295 was added to the criminal code to address "deliberate and malicious acts with the intention to offend the religious sentiments of any group by insulting their religion or their religious belief."
However, General Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq, Pakistani president from 1977 to 1988, introduced several amendments to the code, including life imprisonment for anyone who profanes the Qur'an and the death penalty for anyone who insults the prophet.
Since then, many Christians have suffered humiliations and persecutions as a result of false accusations of violating this law.
Marc Fromager, director of the French section of Aid to the Church in Need, said that this law is not precise in its formulation as it does not differentiate between a deliberate and a non-deliberate action.
Moreover, he said, according to this law, a person can be accused without proofs and the claimant has a status of impunity.
He noted that there have been an increasing number of sham trials and greater harshness in the punishments.
Arrests, murders and massacres have increased since the promulgation of these laws, Fromager said, and hundreds of places of worship have been destroyed.
The bishops' conference Justice and Peace Commission estimated that there have been 993 innocent victims of this law between 1986 and 2010, 120 of whom were Christians.