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Last Updated: Wednesday, 23 November 2005, 16:35 GMT
Pakistan blasphemy rethink urged
By Barbara Plett
BBC News, Islamabad

Dr Rowan Williams
Dr Williams fears the blasphemy law is used to settle scores
The UK's Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, on a visit to Pakistan, has asked its president to look at the nation's blasphemy law.

The law says desecrating the Koran is punishable by death. Christians say it is used as an excuse to attack them.

Last week Muslims torched churches and a convent school in Punjab province after accusing a Christian of burning Islam's holy book.

Dr Williams said he feared the law was being used to settle scores.

'Framed'

The incident in Sangla Hill, about 100km (62 miles) from Lahore, was the worst attack on Pakistan's Christian minority in recent times.

Three churches, parish homes and a convent school were set ablaze.

Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf
Musharraf's response to the Punjab event angered some Christians

Christians locked themselves in their homes or fled.

The Muslims said the violence began when a local Christian man burned copies of the Koran. Christian clerics say he was framed.

But they say the wider problem is that Muslim extremists use Pakistan's blasphemy laws as an excuse to attack them.

The laws give the death penalty for defiling the Koran or insulting the Prophet, a sweeping definition that can be widely interpreted.

Dr Williams said the laws were a problem "not so much about the idea of a law against blasphemy as about a law whose penalty is so severe and whose practice gives so many loopholes to allow people to settle private scores by appealing to blasphemy laws".

The archbishop said he had asked Pakistan's President Pervez Musharraf to scrutinise the application of the laws.

President Musharraf condemned the attack on the Christian community but equally condemned the alleged Koran burning.

That angered Christians. They complained the state did not do enough to protect them.

They said at best the police did not come to their rescue and at worst were complicit in the crime.


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