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Wednesday, 17 May, 2000, 15:30 GMT 16:30 UK
Pakistan's blasphemy law U-turn
Christian demonstrators
Christians in Pakistan have demonstrated against the laws
By Owen Bennett-Jones in Islamabad

Pakistan's human rights commission has reacted strongly after the country's military ruler gave up plans to change the way in which a controversial blasphemy law is implemented.

A number of Islamic organisations had threatened to hold demonstrations on Friday to protest against the proposed changes.

But General Musharraf has said that he now plans to leave the laws completely unchanged.

Minority religious groups in Pakistan, and especially the Christians, have long complained that the blasphemy laws are used to persecute them.

The human rights commission said that the military regime's stated commitment to human rights had been exposed as hollow.

It said General Musharraf had made a craven retreat after being panicked by conservative clerics.


Bishop John Joseph
Bishop John Joseph killed himself in protest at the blasphemy laws
The controversy concerns the military's proposal to change the way in which blasphemy cases are registered.

Currently, if an individual goes to the police and simply accuses someone of blasphemy, the police have to make an immediate arrest before an investigation.

Climbdown

General Musharraf was suggesting that to discourage false accusations, claims about blasphemy should initially be referred to a senior civil servant, who would then investigate before ordering any arrest.

The military insisted that this was just a procedural change, and did not mean that the law itself was being amended.

Nevertheless, many Islamic groups reacted sharply and their threats of protests this Friday have led General Musharraf to change his mind.

The Christian Liberation Front said that the military authorities had bowed to extremist pressure.

It had proved incapable of pushing through a relatively minor measure which anyway fell well short of a full repeal of the blasphemy laws, it said.

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See also:

21 Apr 00 | South Asia
Musharraf pledge on human rights
15 Mar 00 | South Asia
Pakistani rights abuse 'widespread'
09 Sep 98 | South Asia
Pakistan blasphemy death sentence
09 Sep 98 | South Asia
Pakistani blasphemy suicide protest
30 Nov 99 | South Asia
Analysis: Justice under scrutiny
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