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Pakistani Senate body seeks end of 'unjust' blasphemy cases

A total of 179 Pakistanis are in detention and awaiting trial for blasphemy and 17 have been convicted, says rights body

Christian protest in Karachi city of Pakistan on Aug. 19 to condemn blasphemy riot by Muslims on churches and Christian houses in Jaranwala of Punjab province.

Christian protest in Karachi city of Pakistan on Aug. 19 to condemn blasphemy riot by Muslims on churches and Christian houses in Jaranwala of Punjab province. (Photo: Asif Hassan/AFP/Getty Images)

Published: October 23, 2023 10:00 AM GMT

Updated: October 25, 2023 04:29 AM GMT

A parliamentary body in Pakistan has sought clarifications on cases under the country’s blasphemy laws in its attempts to end ‘unjust’ detentions and to develop standard procedures to address the suffering of religious minorities.

A total of 179 Pakistani citizens are currently in detention, awaiting trial for blasphemy, according to the Standing Committee on Human Rights of the Pakistani Senate, the upper house of the parliament, Vatican’s Fides news agency reported Oct. 19.

The committee also noted that 17 people have been convicted of blasphemy and are awaiting a second trial.

It referred to recent data from the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), which described the statistics as “heartbreaking.”

The NHRC data were released following anti-Christian mob violence in Jaranwala of Punjab province which left 22 churches and some 91 houses of Christians destroyed in August over alleged desecration of the Quran by two Christians.

Senator Walid Iqbal, chairman of the senate standing committee, sought clarification on blasphemy cases and called for the formation of a national coordination committee within the human rights ministry to develop standard operating procedures to address issues that cause suffering and unjust “collective punishment” to minority communities, the report said.

Iqbal said he was concerned about "the misuse of blasphemy laws as a means to resolve personal issues."

Following the latest anti-Christian violence, the NHRC said it will study measures to prevent such abuses and will push for legislation to end the suffering of people accused of blasphemy.

The Fides report noted that the recent release on bail of a Christian couple accused of committing blasphemy has brought good news to the Christian community.

The judge reportedly dismissed the allegations because of a lack of evidence by the complainant, Muhammad Tamoor, a Muslim man.

Rights activists hailed the bail for Kiran Bibi and Shaukat Masih as a “landmark” decision.

In Muslim-majority Pakistan, blasphemy is a highly sensitive issue. The nation’s Penal Code criminalizes blasphemy with death and life sentences.

Dozens of Muslims and non-Muslims have been accused and sentenced for blasphemy though none has been executed.

However, allegations of blasphemy triggered deadly riots by Muslim mobs leading to brutal killings.

Critics say that blasphemy laws are often exploited to settle personal disputes and target minority groups like Christians who make up about 1.6 percent of Pakistan's 241 million people.

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