Churches in Pakistan are calling for a day of fasting and prayer for the repeal of the country's "blasphemy law," under which many Pakistani Christians have suffered and even died.
Next Tuesday, Christians will devote their prayer to the repeal of the legislation that was introduced in 1986. The "blasphemy law" is found in Section 295 of the Pakistan Penal Code, which consists of four parts. Out of the four parts of Section 295, only two cause problems for Christians.
Sections 295 and 295-A are non-problematic for Christians and address the defilement of places of worship or sacred objects and with deliberately offending the feelings of others, respectively, according to the church persecution watchdog group Barnabas Fund (BF). The punishment for Section 295 is a maximum of two years imprisonment and for 295-A is up to ten years with the option of a fine included or instead.
The second half, Section 295-B and 295-C, are the ones Pakistani Christians are commonly accused of and persecuted under as it only protects Islam. 295-B was added in 1982 and addresses the defiling, damaging or desecrating a copy of the Qur’an, with the punishment by life imprisonment, BF reported. 295-C was added in 1986 and is concerned with defiling the name of Muhammad, a crime resulting in death or life imprisonment. In 1991, the "blasphemy law" imprisonment option was removed, leaving behind only the mandatory death sentence.
Among the four parts, 295-C is the most easily abused because the accuser does not need to prove intent and there is no penalty for false accusation. According to the Barnabas Fund, numerous cases have been registered under this section, against Christians, Muslims and Ahmadiyyas.
"South Asian Islam places huge emphasis on the veneration of the person of Muhammad. This is why feelings run so high about the ‘blasphemy law,’" explained Barnabas Fund International Director Dr. Patrick Sookhdeo in a statement. "And it is so difficult to change this powerful weapon against Christians.
"There are calls for the introduction of such a law in Bangladesh as well. In the U.K., where a large proportion of the Muslim community have their roots in South Asia, some Muslim leaders have indicated that they hope the proposed law on incitement to religious hatred will function as a blasphemy law to protect Muhammad, just like Section 295-C of the Pakistan Penal Code," Sookhdeo added.
BF noted that although both Christians and Muslims suffer from accusations under 295-C, Christians are much more vulnerable because there is a tendency for both police and judiciary to give greater weight to the testimony of Muslim witnesses than that of Christian witnesses.
"Cases under 295-C are often a matter of one person’s word against another concerning a purported conversation in the past. So if the accuser is a Muslim and the accused a Christian there tends to be a bias in favor of the accuser," BF wrote.
In addition, Christians also face the added problems that Muslims extremists often feel they have a religious duty to make sure the accused is killed no matter what the legal authorities rule. Because of this, several Christians have been murdered. According to BF, a judge was also murdered for apparently acquitting a Christian.
In the past, various Pakistani governments have tried to amend the law so it is less severe, but have been threatened by Islamists and as a result abandoned their intention.