Christians Blast Anti-Blasphemy Law in Pakistan

Article excerpt

When a Roman Catholic bishop killed himself recently to protestPakistan's use of the death sentence for those found to have insultedIslam, he focused world attention on the country's tough blasphemy laws.

In this largely Muslim country, the law prescribes the deathpenalty for those charged with insulting Islam or its prophet, Muhammad.Largely ignored when it came into effect 14 years ago, the law has beenstrictly enforced in the past four years, thanks to the rise of militantMuslim groups.

Bishop John Joseph committed suicide May 6, outside a court inPunjab province, which had sentenced to death a fellow Catholic, AyubMasih, charged with blasphemy.

Almost one week later, the United States House ofRepresentatives passed a bill requiring the president to impose sanctionson countries that deny freedom of worship. The bill is being considered bythe Senate. The State Department called on Pakistan to repeal the blasphemylaw.

But some leaders from Pakistan's small Christian minority areworried the US measure might provoke Muslim militants into harsher actions."It's possible that a backlash here would be stronger," says a Christianmissionary, who asked not to be named. …