Concern for Christians in Pakistan after Sherry Rehman drops blasphemy law Bill

The Centre for Legal Aid, Assistance and Settlement has said it is “extremely disappointed” with the decision of Sherry Rehman to abandon efforts to change Pakistan’s blasphemy laws.

Rehman presented a Bill to the Pakistani National Assembly last year proposing the removal of the death sentence from Section 295 (C) of the Pakistani Penal Code, which makes it a criminal offence to blaspheme against the Prophet Muhammad.

Her Bill failed to receive support from members of her own party, the PPP, which insisted that Rehman was acting in a personal capacity.

Right-wing parliamentarians and members of the public reacted angrily to the proposals, with an estimated 40,000 people taking part in a rally against the Bill in Lahore last week.

Rehman, one of the few parliamentarians willing to challenge the blasphemy laws, told the BBC she had received numerous death threats after submitting the Bill.

Fears for her life heightened further after the Governor of Punjab Salman Taseer was murdered last month by his own bodyguard because of his support for reform.

Her decision to abandon the Bill comes after the Pakistani government made clear that it would not be pursuing any changes to the law on blasphemy at present.

CLAAS, which provides free legal assistance to persecuted Christians in Pakistan, said there was now little hope that the situation would improve for the country’s Christian minority.

Nasir Saeed, Coordinator of CLAAS UK, said: “We are very disappointed by Sherry Rehman’s decision to abandon her Bill. The Pakistani government has proved itself incapable of seeking equal rights for religious minorities and unwilling to work towards amending the draconian blasphemy law. It is sadly a sign of how far from democratic values and religious tolerance Pakistan is.

“Persecuted Christians in Pakistan deserve to be heard and they deserve the rights enjoyed by others in their own country. We will continue to put pressure on the Pakistani government to change this law and its unfair application.”

The blasphemy laws make it a crime to insult the Prophet Muhammad or desecrate the Koran. CLAAS and other rights groups warn that the laws are being misused by Muslim radicals to deliberately harm Christians and settle personal scores.

The Pakistani government’s resistance to change comes in spite of pressure from the international community to safeguard the rights of Christians and other minorities.

The concern of the international community has increased in recent months after Christian field worker and mother Asia Bibi was sentenced to death last November for blasphemy. She is in prison awaiting an appeal hearing.

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