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Lambeth Conference criticizes Pakistan's blasphemy laws

Posted on: August 8, 1998 2:03 PM

by Nan Cobbey
Lambeth Conference Communications

The world's Anglican bishops Friday (August 7) condemned Pakistan's blasphemy law and called for release of "all prisoners unjustly accused" under it.

In a unanimous vote, and following a debate led by Anglican bishops from the Pakistan region, the Lambeth conference labeled the blasphemy law "the source of victimization of the minorities in Pakistan," especially Christians. The bishops called for the restoration of all rights originally granted under the country's 1973 Constitution.

"The Blasphemy Law hangs over our head like the sword of Damocles," said Bishop Azad Marshall of the Diocese of the Arabian Gulf (Pakistan). "[It] has paralyzed our community with fear and ever since its introduction we have seen brutalization of Christian individuals and rural communities."

Death for derogatory remarks

Bishop Samuel Azariah of Raiwind Diocese (Pakistan) revealed to a hushed gathering of 730 bishops how the law was passed "at a time when a military dictator was ruling the country for 11 years." The law, he said, states "anyone who uses derogatory remarks against the prophet of Islam will be put to death."

There is "no option" given to the judiciary of Pakistan, said Bishop Azariah. "No judge in Pakistan is willing to take up these cases when an allegation is brought against them. It was because of this frustration that we experienced the sacrifice of the life of the Roman Catholic Bishop John Joseph." Bishop Azariah referred to the Pakistani bishop who in despair at his inability to win justice for prisoner Ayub Misih, accused under the blasphemy Law, shot himself in front of the Sahiwal courthouse in May.

The resolution, proposed by Anglican bishops from the South Asia and Middle East regions, states: "We are deeply concerned with the increasing intolerance and call upon the conference to condemn the rise of intolerance towards minorities; especially Christians [and] the legal and judicial processes which marginalise minorities and isolate them from the national mainstream."

Bishop Mano Rumalshah of Peshawar (Pakistan) brought "a word of gratitude" to the bishops and "to people across the world who have stood by us in our hour of trial and agony."

"Keep at it," he said, "not only for Pakistan's sake but wherever you see human lives being endangered . . . . It does matter. Never underestimate what international pressure does to alleviate situations particularly in a country like ours. We have seen its truth."