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IRD Appalled as Pakistan Takes 'Two Steps Backward' in Religious Freedom

Contact: Loralei Coyle 202-682-4131, 202-905-6852 cell, lcoyle@ird-renew.org; Radio Interviews: Jeff Walton, jwalton@ird-renew.org; both with The Institute on Religion and Democracy


WASHINGTON, May 11 /Christian Newswire/ -- In a meeting this week of the National Assembly, the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA), a coalition of six pro-Taliban religious parties, introduced an apostasy bill demanding death for men who convert from Islam and life in prison for women. The apostasy bill was sent to the Standing Committee on Law and Justice. In a second step backwards, May 8, 2007, the National Assembly rejected amendments to provide just, equal treatment for all Pakistanis in the blasphemy laws, which now punish only those who dishonor the Quran or Muhammad. The modest bill, sponsored by a minority MP, proposed prohibiting dishonoring the holy books of all religions, as well as including "any other Holy Prophets" with Muhammad. The bill also proposed that if it is found that accusations are false, the accusers would be fined and imprisoned. But reforms were rejected in the National Assembly with cries of "Shame! Shame!" from both the government and opposition bench. The Parliamentary Affairs Minister, Dr. Sher Afgan Niazi, commented, "Islam is our religion and such bills hurt our feelings."

IRD Religious Liberty director Faith McDonnell responds:

"The National Assembly of Pakistan has taken two steps backwards in religious freedom.

"They are entertaining legislation that violates international standards of human rights. They have also rejected a bill to reform Pakistan's misused blasphemy laws.

"We all have the God-given right to follow our own conscience. The apostasy bill is the work of political parties aligned with Taliban-style repression. The rest of the National Assembly should have the moral courage to stop Islamic imperialists from turning Pakistan into one of the world's worst violators of human rights.

"Pakistani Christians have more than hurt feeling due to these laws. In some cases, the accusations are absurd. In one case, a Christian boy was sentenced to death for writing blasphemy on the wall of a mosque. He could not have done what he was accused of, as he was completely illiterate. Yet Muslim 'witnesses' accused him. Due to international outcry, the boy was released. But his family had to flee the country because mobs have literally lynched alleged blasphemers."

IRD urges the Government of Pakistan to 'step forward' and protect the rights and religious freedom of minorities in Pakistan.