The head of the Catholic Church in Pakistan has expressed outrage at the government’s decision to withdraw a private member’s bill proposing changes in the blasphemy laws, calling it “an act of surrender.”
“It’s a mistake giving in to pressure by Islamic parties. The government has totally caved in and there seems no prospect of changes in the controversial legislation in the near future,” Archbishop Lawrence J. Saldanha, president of Pakistan Catholic Bishop’s Conference told ucanews.com.
Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani told the National Assembly on Feb. 2 that the government never intended to make any changes to the law and had disbanded the committee reviewing it.
The premier also said Sherry Rehman, who introduced the bill, had decided to withdraw it.
The decision comes in the wake of the recent killing of Punjab governor Salman Taseer who was a vocal critic of the blasphemy laws.
“I have no other option but to abide by my party’s decision. The bill was not aiming to repeal the law, but to better protect our great Prophet Mohammad’s name against injustices”, Rahman said yesterday, adding, “Policies to please extremists will be harmful.”
Archbishop Saldanha agreed with the last point.
“Improving the law will bring more honor and respect to the Prophet and the country. The poor and Christians have suffered a lot; even students are now afraid to speak, discuss or write about the Prophet,” he said.
The blasphemy laws make an insult to the Qur’an an offense punishable by up to life imprisonment, while giving the death penalty to anyone convicted of insulting Prophet Muhammad. Church leaders have long charged that the blasphemy laws are being abused for personal gain and to harass non-Muslims. NGOs record 1,392 people were killed in blasphemy laws-related violence.