Suicide Ignites Debate on Blasphemy Laws

Article excerpt

Unrest in Pakistan continued following the funeral of Bishop John Joseph of Faisalabad, who shot himself May 6 to protest the death sentence given a Catholic convicted of blasphemy against Islam.

Some 25,000 mourners attended the May 10 funeral of Joseph at the Faisal-abad cathedral. The bishop, 65, who chaired the Pakistani bishops' justice and peace commission, killed himself in Sahiwal at the site where Ayub Massih was sentenced to death April 27 (see editorial, page 24). The site is also where Ayub had been shot at while awaiting a court hearing Nov. 6.

The Multan section of the Lahore High Court suspended the lower court's sentence against Ayub May 12. Ayub's defense presented documents showing that he had studied the Quran, Islam's holy book, for years and holds no hostility toward Islam.

Following Joseph's burial, Muslims attacked and burned Christian homes and shops, leaving dozens homeless. Sixteen Muslims and five Christians were arrested.

Muslim extremists were turned back by police May 11 from advancing on Christian homes and churches.

Violence also marred a May 8 memorial service in the bishop's home village of Kushpur, where some mourners threw stones at the police. Police chief Mian Asif said his men had been ordered to fire over the demonstrators' heads, but at least two fired into the crowd. Three people were hospitalized with bullet wounds.

The day before killing himself, Joseph wrote that the blasphemy laws are "the greatest block in the good and harmonious relations between Muslims and the religious minorities in Pakistan. …