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Sunday, May 10, 1998 Published at 15:49 GMT 16:49 UK


Pakistan defends blasphemy laws

A protest against the blasphemy laws by Christians in Karachi

A round-up of the reaction of the Pakistani media to the suicide of John Joseph, the Roman Catholic bishop of Faisalabad, who killed himself in protest at the effect of the country's blasphemy laws.

Pakistan defends blasphemy law in face of criticism

A Pakistani foreign ministry spokesman described a US State Department call for the repeal of its blasphemy law "unwarranted and not based on facts" , Radio Pakistan reported on Sunday.

He said there was complete freedom of speech in Pakistan, but warned that "denigration of any religion is not permissible".

The spokesman held out some hope to Ayub Masih, the Christian sentenced to death in April for insulting the Prophet, by saying that he can still appeal against his sentence. Pakistan has never actually executed anyone under the blasphemy law.

"The responsibility for any precipitate action by any individual or a group must not lie with the Government of Pakistan," the spokesman added.

Religious affairs minister defends law

Religious and Minorities Minister Raja Zaffarul Haq had earlier defended the blasphemy law, saying that it was not aimed against any particular religion or community.

He qualified this by saying minorities in Pakistan enjoyed full protection and security "according to Islamic teachings" , and that the blasphemy law had not been implemented in Pakistan " without substantial evidence," Pakistani radio reported on Friday.

Indian coalition party "regrets" blasphemy law

An Indian government party criticized Pakistan's blasphemy law, the Indian news agency PTI reported on Sunday, the day Catholic Bishop John Joseph was buried in Pakistan after committing suicide in protest at the law.

The statement by the Samata party, whose senior representative in the government is Defence Minister George Fernandes, "expressed deep regret at the repercussions of the blasphemy law in Pakistan, which caused a suicide of a bishop".

It said that, despite Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif's assurances on the rights of minorities in Pakistan, " the extreme reactions and sense of insecurity it has caused among the Christian community is unfortunate".

The party urged Pakistan to revoke the death sentence on Ayub Masih "so that the life of the bishop is not allowed to have been lost in vain", saying that this alone would reassure minorities throughout the subcontinent that all people and religions deserved and would receive equal respect.

Indian Christians protest

This followed a large protest by Indian priests, nuns and leaders of the Christian community on Friday outside the Pakistani High Commission in New Delhi against the blasphemy law, PTI reported.

Bishop Pritam Santaram of the independent Church of North India, Bishop Vincent Concessao of the Justice and Peace Commission of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of India, and representatives of several other churches joined in with nuns, teachers and social workers.

In a message to the high commissioner, they said "the Christian community of India, which shares a common faith and a common history with the Christians of Pakistan, calls upon the government in Islamabad to repeal the blasphemy law immediately."

BBC Monitoring (http://www.monitor.bbc.co.uk), based in Caversham in southern England, selects and translates information from radio, television, press, news agencies and the Internet from 150 countries in more than 70 languages.



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