Since the penal code of the country was amended, during General Zia’s regime in 1986, religious minorities in the country have been living in a state of fear and terror. Under the Blasphemy Law false cases have been brought against religious minorities and Christians in particular have become targets of harassments and persecutions. Due to an increasing trend of the use of the Blasphemy Law, which is often being used as a tool to settle personal scores, attacks on religious minorities have been exacerbated. These incidents have fostered a climate of religiously motivated violence and persecution in several parts of Pakistan. The Blasphemy Law has become a source of friction between the country’s majority and minority religious communities.
“Yet another violation of human rights and another sad example of Pakistan’s ‘blasphemy’ law being misused to strike religious minority groups.” Peter Jacob, Executive Secretary of the Justice and Peace Commission of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Pakistan, said this to the media with regard to the latest case of a Catholic Christian being accused of blasphemy. Mr Rehmat Masih, age 73, resident in the archdiocese of Faisalabad, in the village of Jhandewall, has been reported by a local Muslim, Mr Sajid Hameed, for pronouncing blasphemous words against the Prophet Mohammed. Members of the local Catholic community, which took up the defense of the accused man, told that the charge, clearly false, arose instead from interpersonal disputes over the ownership of land.
“We are confident that the accusations against Rehmat Masih will be lifted because he is innocent. We will stand by him. The Justice and Peace Commission will do everything in its power, at the legal level, and at the level of information and sensitisation, to defend the man publicly ”, Peter Jacob said
The secretary added: “The government of Pakistan must wake up and shoulder its responsibilities, at both the legal and the political level, and explain why this law is allowed to harass and abuse innocent Pakistani citizens.
The international community is also called to take action: “ Last May the European Parliament passed a very positive resolution on religious freedom and human rights in Pakistan: we hope to see it implemented very soon. We ask all international institutions to help us build a better Pakistan”, Jacob concludes.
According to a recent Report issued by the Pakistan Bishops’ Justice and Peace Commission on the Conditions of Religious Minorities in the country, cases of the blasphemy law being misused continue at a high rate all over the country. In 2009 no less than 112 cases were registered against 57 Ahmadi, 47 Muslims and 8 Christians Altogether, since law came into force in 1987, a total number of 1,032 people have been unjustly punished.