Pakistani bishop urges government to curb 'misuse of blasphemy law'

Posted Sep 17, 2012

[World Council of Churches] While accusations of blasphemy in Pakistan have once again captured the news headlines, Bishop Samuel Azariah, moderator of the Church of Pakistan, hopes for the Pakistani government to consider repealing the controversial clause in the Pakistan Penal Code which, he says, invokes misuse of the blasphemy law.

Bishop Azariah, who is a member of the World Council of Churches (WCC) Executive and Central Committees, considers the WCC hearing on “Misuse of the blasphemy law and the plight of religious minorities in Pakistan” an opportunity for Christians along with their Muslim partners to “register their concern and protest against abuse of the law”.

The international hearing is held from 17 to 19 September in Geneva, Switzerland, organized by the WCC Commission of the Churches on International Affairs (CCIA).

The blasphemy law provision has existed in Pakistan since its foundation in 1947. No government during the first forty years felt the need for any changes until General Zia-ul-Haq introduced a number of amendments to the Pakistan Penal Code in the 1980s at the behest of the Islamic parties.

The amendments were made to statutes related to religion, including sections 295 to 298. Since then the B and C clauses of section 295 in the Pakistan Penal Code have been used to victimize religious minorities. The blasphemy cases have resulted in death penalties and mob-instigated violence.

Commenting on the recent case of Rimsha Masih, an eleven year old girl accused of blasphemy, Azariah said that “churches in Pakistan, media and civil society in the country have raised their voices against this case. This is evidently a proof of the misuse of the law.”

“Yet, Rimsha’s case is one among many,” he added.

Rimsha Masih was arrested on 16 August on a charge of blasphemy. Recently she was released and taken to an undisclosed location due to security threats.

For Azariah, cases like Rimsha’s create a sense of fear and insecurity. “The religious minorities and even some sects of Muslims have been affected by the misuse of the blasphemy law. A majority of the cases have proved to be false, which has disturbed the fabric of trust in our society,” he said.

Azariah explained that abuse of the blasphemy law leads to injustice and violation of human rights. For him the purpose of the WCC hearing is to raise assertive Christian voices on the issue of the blasphemy law. “This dialogue is an attempt to improve churches’ understanding of the situation of religious minorities in Pakistan.”

“With a constructive debate on the blasphemy law among the Pakistani churches, civil society representatives and our Muslim partners in dialogue, we hope to raise awareness about our situation among the international community,” said Azariah.

Azariah also expressed appreciation for the participation of Pakistani churches and representatives of Muslim and Hindu religious communities in the hearing, and for the WCC’s support to persecuted minorities in the country irrespective of their religious affiliations.

He said, “The CCIA consultation has provided us with an opportunity to advance the debate on the issues of the dignity and rights of religious minorities in our country. I hope our voices are noted by the higher authorities in Pakistan.”

Read also:

WCC to hold international hearing on the plight of religious minorities in Pakistan (WCC press release of 22 August 2012)

WCC Central Committee statement on the misuse of the blasphemy law in Pakistan, September 2009

WCC Central Committee statement on forced conversion and forced marriages in Pakistan, September 2012

WCC Commission of the Churches on International Affairs

WCC member churches in Pakistan

The World Council of Churches promotes Christian unity in faith, witness and service for a just and peaceful world. An ecumenical fellowship of churches founded in 1948, today the WCC brings together 349 Protestant, Orthodox, Anglican and other churches representing more than 560 million Christians in over 110 countries, and works cooperatively with the Roman Catholic Church. The WCC general secretary is Rev. Dr Olav Fykse Tveit, from the [Lutheran] Church of Norway.