Pope asks Pak to scrap anti-blasphemy law
Vatican City, January 10
Pope Benedict XVI today called on Pakistan to scrap a blasphemy law after the murder of the Governor of Punjab, saying the legislation was a pretext for “acts of injustice and violence”. “I once more encourage the leaders of that country to take the necessary steps to abrogate that law,” he said.
Speaking in his annual address to diplomats days after a senior Pakistani politician who opposed the legislation was assassinated by his own bodyguard, the pope said the Pakistani law was a pretext for violence against religious minorities.
The Pope, who has used many of his addresses in recent weeks to demand religious freedom, renewed his condemnation of attacks on churches that left dozens dead in Egypt, Iraq and Nigeria.
He also called for called for religious freedom in Saudi Arabia, where Christians cannot worship in public, and communist China, which forces Catholics to join an official church. “The particular influence of a given religion in a nation ought never to mean that citizens of another religion can be subject to discrimination in social life or, even worse, that violence against them can be tolerated,” he told the envoys.
The Vatican is particularly worried about Christians in the Middle East, where continuing attacks, combined with severe restrictions, are fuelling a Christian exodus from the region.
In his address to diplomats representing some 170 countries, the Pope said recent attacks in Egypt and Iraq showed the need to urgently adopt effective measures for the protection of religious minorities.
The anti-blasphemy law has been in the spotlight since November when a court sentenced a Christian mother of four to death, in a case that has exposed deep rifts in the troubled Muslim nation of more than 170 million people.
While liberal Pakistanis and rights groups believe the law to be dangerously discriminatory against the country's tiny minority groups, Aasia Bibi's case has become a lightning rod for the country's religious right.
What the law is all about
The law has its roots in 19th century colonial legislation to protect places of worship, but it was during the military dictatorship of General Mohammad Zia ul-Haq in the 1980s that it acquired teeth as part of a drive to Islamise the state. Under the law, anyone who speaks ill of Islam and the Prophet Mohammad commits a crime and faces the death penalty but activists say the vague terminology has led to its misuse.