By Jeremy Reynalds, Senior Correspondent, ASSIST News Service (firstname.lastname@example.org)
LONDON, UK (ANS – Jan 30, 2016) — According to reports, the chairman of the Council of Islamic Ideology, Muhammad Khan Sherani, has said he is willing to review Pakistan’s harsh blasphemy laws.
That’s according to a news release from the UK office of the Center for Legal Aid, Assistance and Settlement (CLAAS).
The laws are regularly used to persecute Christians in Pakistan, leading to hundreds of innocent people being killed.
Pakistan’s religious and political elite almost universally keep clear of debating blasphemy laws in a country where criticism of Islam is a highly sensitive subject. Even rumors of blasphemy have sparked rampaging mobs and deadly riots.
But now Sherani has reportedly said that he is willing to reopen the debate and see whether sentences as harsh as the death penalty were fair.
He added that the council could seriously consider the matter and give its recommendations on whether the law is too hash or soft, and whether it needs to be amended.
Pakistan’s blasphemy laws mandate the death penalty, although no sentence has been carried out. CLAAS said poor and uneducated Christians are often targeted and falsely accused of blasphemy in order to settle personal scores.
To add to the anguish of minorities, judges are reluctant to hear blasphemy cases in court, and sometimes face threats if they are perceived to have acted favorably to a Christian.
But even if a Christian is acquitted of blasphemy, CLAAS said this does not mean their troubles have come to an end. They are often lynched – sometimes on their way back from court – with vigilantes dispensing mob justice.
Salman Taseer, a prominent liberal politician who served as the 26th governor of the province of Punjab from 2008 until his assassination in early 2011, was killed by his own bodyguard after he championed the cause of Asia Bibi, the Pakistani Christian mother-of-five who sentenced to death under the law.
Nasir Saeed, Director CLAAS-UK said in the release, “Although there is not much hope, the chairman’s comments are encouraging, as a few years back he was not even willing to discuss this law.”
He added, “But now he has expressed his willingness, it is a good sign. He has said the government of Pakistan should officially, at the government level, refer the law on committing blasphemy to the Council of Islamic Ideology. Although the council can only make recommendations, it is up to the government whether to accept and implement those recommendations.”
CLAAS said it is a reality that the blasphemy law is being misused to settle personal scores, and several religious scholars and politicians have even admitted this in the media.
However, there is a lot of difference of opinion among the clergy and the politicians. A significant number still believe this law is being misused, including the head of Tehreek e Insaf, Imran Khan, and Ejaz ul Haque, son of Zia ul Haque.
Saeed said, “There is a need to bring changes to stop the law’s continuous misuse, or at least for safeguards to be introduced … Now that the chairman of the Council of Islamic Ideology has expressed his willingness, it seems an appropriate time, so the government must consider this offer and bring some changes to stop the ongoing misuse of the blasphemy laws.”
CLAAS is an interdenominational organization working for Christians who are being persecuted because of their faith in Pakistan.
For more information, visit http://www.claas.org.uk.
Photo captions: 1) Muhammad Khan Sherani, Chairman Council of Islamic Ideology (CII), visiting the then Pakistan President, Asif Ali Zardari, who served as the 11th President of the country from 2008 to 2013. 2) Salman Taseer with Asia Bibi, a meeting that may have cost him his life. 3) Jeremy and Elma Reynalds.
About the writer: Jeremy Reynalds is Senior Correspondent for the ASSIST News Service, a freelance writer and also the founder and CEO of Joy Junction, New Mexico’s largest emergency homeless shelter, www.joyjunction.org. He has a master’s degree in communication from the University of New Mexico, and a Ph.D. in intercultural education from Biola University in Los Angeles. His newest book is “From Destitute to Ph.D.” Additional details on “From Destitute to Ph.D.” are available at www.myhomelessjourney.com. Reynalds lives in Albuquerque, New Mexico with his wife, Elma. For more information, contact: Jeremy Reynalds at: email@example.com.
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