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 — Illustration by Faraz Aamer Khan/
— Illustration by Faraz Aamer Khan/

GENEVA: With Muslim leaders in many countries calling for a global law barring what they call insults to Islam, the main non-Catholic world Christian grouping on Monday said just such a law in Pakistan is used to persecute other religions.

Pakistan’s “Blasphemy Law” has driven the country’s religious minorities – Christians, Hindus and Ahmadis, a dissenting Islamic group – into “a state of fear and terror”, said the World Council of Churches (WCC), organisers of a 3-day conference on the law.

“The Blasphemy Law, while purporting to protect Islam and religious sensitivities of the Muslim majority, is vaguely formulated and arbitrarily enforced by the police and judiciary in a way which amounts to harassment and persecution,” the WCC said in a position paper.

Pakistani religious figures from those minorities told the conference in Geneva that the law had led to false imprisonment, mob killings and compulsory conversion to Islam.

A Christian girl believed to be no older than 14, Rimsha Masih, was granted bail in Pakistan earlier this month and her lawyers are applying to have charges that she burned pages from the Koran dismissed after a local cleric was detained on suspicion of planting false evidence to stir resentment against Christians.

Masih’s case has provoked international concern as she could face execution under the blasphemy law despite her young age and reported mental problems.

The Geneva conference, set up several weeks ago, comes amid protests by Muslims across the globe over a film posted on the Internet some two months ago which imams have told their followers insults both the Prophet Mohammad and Islam.

Several protesters have died, and four U.S. diplomats, including the ambassador to Libya, were killed in an attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi in an echo of earlier violent protests over books and cartoons published in the West.

Amid the violence, Muslim religious leaders, and one prime minister, have called for an international legal agreement to criminalise any insult to Islam and other religions, their holy books and their prophets.

A global law along these lines with the imprimatur of the United Nations was sought for many years by the 57-nation Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) at the U.N. Human Rights Council, now meeting in Geneva.

Every year for more than a decade until 2010 the council, where Pakistan is OIC spokesman, or its predecessor committee, as well as the UN General Assembly, passed majority resolutions on resolutions proposed by the Islamic grouping.

But these were not converted into international agreement because of fierce opposition from the United States, European and some Latin American countries, who argued it would violate free speech and the U.N.’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Following diplomatic negotiations spearheaded by the United States when the administration of President Barack Obama brought it into the council and support for the project waned, the OIC dropped its campaign two years ago.

“It certainly looks as though they (the OIC) might aim to use this furore over a video everyone recognises is stupid and pathetic to try to re-launch the ‘defamation’ campaign,” said one Western diplomat who asked not to be named.

Opponents of any such law say that even without it, Muslim communities in many non-Islamic countries manage to convince authorities to bend to their demands for banning or shelving literary or other works dealing with Islam.

Last week it was reported in Britain that a television programme by British prize-winning historian Tom Holland based on his recent book on the early centuries of Islam had been withdrawn following threats and protests by Muslims.

In a related development, another book was published in Britain on Monday by author Salman Rushdie on his experiences after Iranian leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini in 1989 put a price on his head over “blasphemy” against Islam in a novel.

At the weekend, an Iranian religious foundation announced it was increasing the reward for killing the Indian-born Rushdie to $3.3 million, the Iranian Students News Agency ISNA said.

Comments (17) Closed

Leo Sep 18, 2012 09:52am
There is no scope of ANY Blasphemy Law in a free society. An individual has absolute rights to have his thoughts and must have freedom to express them even if they hurt somebody's religious sensitivities.
varuag Sep 19, 2012 12:44am
India has a blasphemy law. India & Pakistan share the British Law and the original law is present in India. Pakistan added two more clauses to that law that are Islam-specific. In India there has been no reported case for last many years and its a dead law that remains on the book........
NASAH (USA) Sep 18, 2012 03:10pm
It is again like putting a Blasphemy Burqa on the head of free speech all over the world to protect the religion sensitive souls in the Muslim world. It should be much easier to IGNORE the anti Islamic trash than to put the entire legal system of the world under 'Hijab'.
True Pakistani Sep 18, 2012 03:53am
- blasphemy is PURE terrorism and it should be acknowledged as such.
Ahmed Sep 18, 2012 05:43pm
What happened in Mumbai, Madrid and London was one off and never repeated again but in Pakistan countless innocents have been killed by the terrorists (and the show is still on) in a so called "War Against Terror" and amazingly majority dead Pakistanis were muslims, so are muslims terrorists or victims? We have paid the highest price of this war both in term of money and human lives. While our beloved ones are mourning over the dead bodies in daily blasts in Pakistan, you sit back at your chair with a pot of pop corns in hand, watching these blasts and life losses on TV and stereotyping that all muslims are terrorists. My friend "the wearer knows where the shoe pinches" so I welcome you to come in our shoes
worldpeace Sep 18, 2012 09:07am
Blasphemy Law should be used to protect Minority community not Majority community
AKA Joly Sep 18, 2012 11:01am
very well said, these are double standars, and most of liberals in our society are part of same thinking.
Blazer_UK Sep 18, 2012 12:01pm
Absolute rubbish Ahmed! What about the muslims who killed innocents in Mumbai? What about the muslims who killed innocents on 7/7 in London? What about the muslims who destroyed a train in Madrid, Muslims are the terrorists of the world!
Ahmed Sep 17, 2012 04:14pm
Might my opinion be biased but what about the blood shedding in Burma?Iraq?Afghanistan?Kashmir?drone attacks in Pakistan?Violence in Indian Gujrat? Did Geneva conference discuss these blasphemies of muslims in the above mentioned parts of world? surely not discussed and the answer is simple that these are muslim majority countries but once any non-muslim is held accountable for blasphemy of muslim emotions the whole world will convene a meeting to discuss the wrongs of muslim laws on human grounds. It does not mean that blasphemy law should be used as a tool to trap non-muslims it should be reviewed to make sure that innocent non-muslims are not victimized but I request the attendants of GENEVA conference and world to please hold a conference to discuss the blasphemy of muslims in the above mentioned parts coz muslims are also human beings by default and they do deserve justice like non-muslims. If you claim to provide the highest degrees of justice then "ACT LIKE YOUR CLAIM". Thanks
muzjee Sep 17, 2012 05:15pm
Islam does not prescribe any punishment for blasphemy. The Quran instructs Muslims to walk away from those insulting their faith. Islam protects freedom of speech, and the Prophet Muhammad
Akhter Husain Sep 18, 2012 12:01pm
Killings, murders , arson and violence are also forms of expression of anger against ,exploitation, degrading and hurting of one's feelings.Why should then this be not . allowed under the philosophy of "Freedom Of Expression" ? I hope you will not allow this for reasons of rationality and you will be right.
AKA Joly Sep 17, 2012 10:50pm
Absolute Bogus, Live in Pakistan than you'll know, i have lived in christian neighborhood for 15 years, Every day they would sing on the loud speaker not a single person stopped them. Just so they don't feel bad. Stop making things up. My society was Makah Colong, Gulberg 3, Lahore, South side is complete christian community even got two mosques, never ever had any trouble, most of bazaar has christian shops as well. Not a single person was hurt, or killed or ordered to die by Judiciary or police, We know these are sensitive issues, so please you want to make laws, make them in your country. and stop interfering in other religions, what proof does anyone have of forced conversions. Stop making things up.
Amir Sep 18, 2012 05:15pm
What about the non-Muslim Serbs who carried out genocide of Muslims in bosnia? How about calling them terrorists? You see, you have a very narrow definition of a terrorist, which is, if it is a Muslim, then it is a terrorist. The definition changes when the same act is carried out by a non-Muslim.
what is in the Name Sep 17, 2012 07:24pm
double standards of muslims!
worldpeace Sep 18, 2012 09:04am
Should Israel,China, America,India,Burma etc should introduce Blasphemy Law?
Akhter Husain Sep 18, 2012 12:04pm
May be bias but your opinion is agreeably sane.
Chris Sep 19, 2012 04:12am
I just don't know what to say about this country. I feel sorry for you guys and maybe even a little guilty. I'm sitting here in the west enjoying all the freedom in the world and the goodness that life provides while you all suffer so very much. My prayers are with you. May Allah bring back your country from the abyss that you find yourself in.