Top Pakistan court makes landmark ruling: Criticising blasphemy law is not illegal

ReutersProtesters hold up placards condemning Pakistan's strict blasphemy laws, which are sometimes used to target Christians.

In what can be considered as a landmark decision, Pakistan's highest court recently ruled that criticising the country's highly controversial blasphemy law is not in itself illegal.

The organisation Barnabas Fund, a group which campaigns against the persecution of Christians around the world, said a recent decision by Pakistan's Supreme Court upholding the death sentence on a former police officer who killed a provincial governor accused of blasphemy in effect means that citizens can criticise the country's 150-year-old blasphemy law based on the Quran.

"Criticising the country's notoriously harsh blasphemy laws is not blasphemy," the organisation said, as quoted by WND.com.

"The supreme court's statement that criticism of the blasphemy laws does not amount to blasphemy is a significant victory," the group added.

Barnabas Fund further said the recent Supreme Court verdict is a significant first step towards giving more Christians in Pakistan some freedom of speech.

"While the path to full protection against the accusation of blasphemy for Pakistan's Christians is a long one, the freedom to allow high-level debate within Pakistan itself could mark the beginning of another step forward," the organisation said.

The judgment from the Muslim-majority court stemmed from the appeal made by Mumtaz Qadri, a police commando who was sentenced to death for the killing of Salman Taseer, the governor of Punjab, in January 2011.

Qadri shot Taseer dead after the latter criticised Pakistan's blasphemy laws. Before his death, Taseer visited Asia Bibi, a Christian mother who was jailed and sentenced to death for supposedly insulting the name of the Islamic prophet Muhammad in 2009.

In his appeal, Qadri justified the killing of Taseer, saying "he was convinced that Taseer had committed blasphemy when he criticised the blasphemy law, calling it a 'black law.'"

In Pakistan, blasphemy is punishable by death. This harsh law has caused the imprisonment of 150 Christians over the last 30 years.

At present, 14 people, including Bibi, are facing the death sentence due to Pakistan's blasphemy law.

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