Pakistan’s government is not doing enough to ensure the safety of its religious minorities, and its blasphemy law “has caused a lot of injustice amongst the whole society,” critics said on Tuesday.
Asia Bibi, a Pakistani Christian, was arrested in June 2009, for allegedly insulting Islam. The blasphemy law has put 24 Christians to death, according to Bibi’s attorney, Naeem Shakir.
“This law has been abused for settling personal scores, for professional liability, for land grabbing, and for of course, religious persecution,” said Shakir, who is also a Pakistan Supreme Court lawyer.
Shakir spoke at a panel organized by the International Christian Concern.
“The blasphemy law needs to be reframed, recast, so that this abuse must not continue,” Shakir said.
He called on the U.S. government to put pressure on Pakistan’s government to keep religious extremists at bay from court proceedings.
Shakir also asked the government of Pakistan to “dispel a wrong impression amongst the general public that has been played up by the clergy, deliberately, that as if the text of this [blasphemy] law is something divine, as if it’s a reproduction of [the] Holy Quran. It was framed by earthly people.”
The blasphemy law, however, does not only involve Christians. Principally, the law is used to file legal cases of “one Muslim against another,” said Elizabeth Berridge, a member of the U.K. Parliament.
“What I would like to see is requests by the Pakistani provinces and by the government for help,” Berridge said.
The treatment of Christians in Pakistan is not similar to how Christians are treated in Iraq.
“The Christians in Iraq primarily don’t have a problem from their government. They’re targeted from Islamic terrorists,” said Jeff King, president of International Christian Concern. “The only difference in Pakistan is that they are targeted by terrorists and then they’re targeted by people with radical beliefs, and the government, as well as the culture itself. In Pakistan, you have that hybrid problem where it’s societal; it’s government, as well as the terrorists in there too. It’s particularly poisonous for Christians.”
King said that although individuals in Pakistan’s government aim to help religious minorities, they are not willing to have a “bull’s eye on their back.” By supporting minorities, government officials could face retaliation and in the process lose their families.
The Pew Research Center found that Christians are the most persecuted religious group.
In a study released in February: “Christians and Muslims – who together make up more than half of the global population – faced harassment in the largest number of countries. Christians were harassed, either by government or social groups, in 102 of the 198 countries included in the study (52 percent), while Muslims were harassed in 99 countries (50 percent).”
A statement written by Ashiq Bibi, Asia Bibi’s husband, was read at the conference: “Since Asia Bibi was sentenced to death in November 2010 for drinking a glass of water from our village, my family has lived in constant fear and under death threats. I live in hiding with my five children. We do not understand why our Muslim brothers are so against us in our own beloved Pakistan. We are Christians, but we respect Islam. No one should be killed only for drinking a glass of water.”