Pakistan's ‘Fear Of Extremists’ Prevents Abolition Of Blasphemy Law

From The Tablet:
The Government of Pakistan might be willing to abolish the country’s draconian blasphemy law, if it were not for the fact that it “fears the reaction of extremists”, the President of the Pakistani Bishops’ Conference said.

Archbishop Joseph Coutts of Karachi was speaking on a trip to Portugal organised by the Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need.

He was speaking ahead of the sixth anniversary this week of the incarceration of Asia Bibi [pictured], a 44-year-old Christian mother of five, who was accused of blasphemy by her co-workers and sentenced to death in 2010. A communiqué from the British Pakistani Christian Association reported that she is now emaciated, “vomiting blood, suffering from intestinal pains and severe pain around the heart”.

Archbishop Coutts welcomed recently proposed modifications to the law which will require psychological testing of people accused of blasphemy, in a move which recognises the need for safeguards to prevent abuse of the law.

Coutts said Christians had long been protesting against the legislation. “The point that has finally got across is that it’s not just about the abolition of the law but the way the law is framed. We need safeguards to prevent the misuse of this law, which is what has been happening all along,” he explained.

The blasphemy law is often used to target members of minorities or to settle personal scores. Many of the accused have been considered “mentally unsound”. Nobody has been executed under the law but dozens have been lynched by mobs taking justice into their own hands, or remain imprisoned for years.

Many of those jailed following accusations of blasphemy are Muslims.

Asked if he believed Mrs Bibi will be released, Archbishop Coutts refused to speculate but stressed that “the efforts continue, and that won't stop.”

The rise in persecution over the last decade has prompted some Christians to emigrate. “A number have already found refuge in Sri Lanka and a few hundred fled to Thailand, precisely because they see no future [in Pakistan]. But for me, we should not give up hope,” Archbishop Coutts said.

Although the persecution of Christians has increased over the past decade, some other religious minorities are worse off, such as the Ahmadis, a Muslim sect considered heretical by mainstream Islam, the archbishop said.

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