Pakistani leaders consider taming blasphemy laws

Pakistani leaders consider taming blasphemy laws

LAHORE, Pakistan — Gruesome violence against Muslims accused of blasphemy in Pakistan has reignited calls for amending blasphemy statutes commonly used to persecute Christians.

The lynching of a Muslim university student in northwestern Pakistan, the murder of a Muslim in Punjab Province and mob violence against a mentally challenged Muslim — all on similar blasphemy accusations — have compelled officials at high levels to call for changes in the statutes.

The National Assembly passed a resolution April 17 calling for amending the blasphemy law to include strong safeguards to help prevent its misuse. At the same time, the Senate called for amending the statutes to provide punishments to those who concoct blasphemy accusations against others.

More than 200 people in Pakistan were charged under blasphemy laws in 2015, many of them minorities such as Christians, who make up 1 percent of Pakistan’s population. The laws are often used to settle personal scores and Islamist groups and lawyers often advocate the harshest punishments and apply pressure for convictions on police and courts.

And outside the court system, blasphemy suspects have long been targeted by Islamist vigilantes in Pakistan. At least 65 people, including lawyers, defendants and judges, have been murdered over blasphemy allegations since 1990. (MS)