Thursday, March 3, 2011

Tragedy in Pakistan

The current Zardari government has taken positive actions to promote religious tolerance. However, the government has failed to reverse the continuing erosion in the social and legal status of members of religious minority communities and in the ability of members of the majority Muslim community to discuss sensitive religious and social issues freely.
Annual Report of the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom May 2010, p 91. (To see this document CLICK HERE)

Barely a year after this document was published, the government itself is crumbling beneath the continuing erosion.

Yesterday Pakistan's minister for religious minorities, Shahbaz Bhatti, was martyred for his part in "promoting religious tolerance". From a Catholic Culture article I read today: "The gunman who ambushed Bhatti's car and shot down the government leader left a note saying that Bhatti was killed 'for speaking out against the blasphemy law.'" (read the article by clicking HERE). To echo the article's headline, this is devastating.

Bhatti is the second Pakistani official assassinated for his commitment to reform of the nation's blasphemy laws. I found a very disturbing post on a Website called Jihad Watch. Apparently, the Pakistani government knew that Bhatti had a target on his back, but didn't protect him with the same vigor as they would other government officials. Most disturbing is the last sentence of the post: "The country's interior minister Rehman Malik went to the extent of saying he too would shoot anyone who commits blasphemy."  (Click here to read the article.)

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Here is a partial summary of the Pakistani blasphemy laws as found in the USCIRF 2009 Annual Report:

Prescribed criminal penalties for what is deemed to be blasphemy include life imprisonment and the death penalty. Blasphemy allegations, which are often false, result in the lengthy detention of, and sometimes violence against, Ahmadis, Christians, Hindus, and members of other religious minorities, as well as Muslims. Because the laws require no evidence to be presented after allegations are made and no proof of intent, and contain no penalty for leveling false allegations, they are commonly used by extremists to intimidate members of religious minorities and others with whom they disagree. They also are often used by the unscrupulous simply to carry out a vendetta or gain an advantage over another. Although the penalties were amended in October 2004 with the aim of reducing the more maliciously applied charges, the minor procedural changes have not had a significant effect on the way the blasphemy laws are exploited in Pakistan. The negative impact of the blasphemy laws is further compounded by the lack of due process involved in these proceedings. In addition, during blasphemy trials, Islamic militants often pack the courtroom and make public threats of violence as a consequence of an acquittal. Such threats have proven credible since they have sometimes been followed by violence. Although no one has yet been executed by the state under the blasphemy laws, individuals have been sentenced to death. Several of those accused under the blasphemy laws have been attacked, even killed, by violent extremists, including while in police custody. Those who escape official punishment or attacks by extremists are sometimes forced to flee the country.
Annual Report of the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom
May 2009, p 68. (To see this document CLICK HERE)

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