Pak Christians say blasphemy cases after review

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M Zulqernain

Lahore, Jan 14 (PTI) In the face of pressure from Islamichardliners opposed to changes in the blasphemy law, Pakistan''sminority Christian community has asked authorities to ensurethat complaints in such cases are registered only after areview by a panel comprising leaders of all religions.

Leaders of the Christian community have asked the Councilof Islamic Ideology � a constitutional body that advises thelegislature whether a law is repugnant to Islam � to send arecommendation to parliament regarding the registration ofblasphemy cases only after a review by committee of religiousleaders.

M M Waqas, Alexander Raja Robert and Akram John of thePakistan Maseeha Millat Party today said that the Council ofIslamic Ideology should recommend that an officer not belowthe rank of Superintendent of Police should be empowered todecide about registering blasphemy cases in the light ofopinions given by a committee of religious leaders.

Such a step would prevent the misuse of the blasphemylaw, the Christian leaders said in a statement.

After Punjab Governor Salmaan Taseer was assassinated onJanuary 4 by a police guard who said he was angered by thepolitician''s opposition to the blasphemy law, civil societygroups have called for the repeal or amendment of the statute.

However, religious hardliners and extremist groups havemounted pressure on the government and politicians not tochange even a single clause of the blasphemy law, which wasintroduced by late military ruler Zia-ul-Haq in the 1980s.

The hardliners have also rallied in support of MumtazQadri, the policeman who gunned down Taseer.

The Christian leaders welcomed reports that the Councilof Islamic Ideology has recommended stern action againstpersons who register false and baseless blasphemy casesagainst innocent people.

"We are, however, surprised by the Council''srecommendation regarding the trial of persons accused ofblasphemy by Sharia courts. We suggest that such accusedshould be tried by judges of superior courts," John said.

Minority communities, unlike most segments of themajority Muslim community, have paid rich tributes to Taseerfor his brave stance on the blasphemy law and his defence ofAsia Bibi, a Christian woman sentenced to death last year forallegedly insulting the Prophet.

The Express Tribune newspaper recently reported that theCouncil of Islamic Ideology had recommended the death penaltyfor anybody misusing the blasphemy law.

It also recommended that only the Federal Sharia Courtshould hear blasphemy cases. The Council proposed the changesto stop the misuse of the law.

"These recommendations have been pending beforeparliament for the past three years," a senior official in theCouncil said.

The recommendations remain valid "until and unless theyare rejected by parliament", the official said.

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