The murder of the Emmanuels excited further rioting and a police curfew. Reportedly, some mosques urged their followers to react against supposedly rampaging Christians. Some Christian shops and homes were attacked in seeming efforts to cripple them economically and presumably to encourage their departure. Such threats against Pakistani Christians are not unusual. A Pakistani Christian couple who have produced a documentary about last year’s Islamist attacks on the Christian neighborhoods are now enduring their own death threats. Their film is “Burned Alive: the Fate of Christians in Pakistan.”
According to the BBC, no Pakistani has ever been officially executed under the Blasphemy Law, but 10 defendants have been extra-judicially murdered, and dozens of others live in exile or hiding to evade punishment. Countless others no doubt refrain from their own minority religious expression or speak out on behalf of human rights lest they too fall under suspicion, like the Emmanuels.
Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari has condemned the murder of the Emmanuels. The “life of every person is sacred and no one should be allowed to take the law into his own hands,” he reportedly said, offering condolences to the family of the martyred Christians, urging a probe of their murder, and asking the provincial government to offer compensation to the aggrieved family. It remains to be seen how vigorously the murders will be investigated. And such murders seem almost inevitable so long as the Blasphemy Law persists.
Last year’s World Council of Churches critique of the Blasphemy Law noted it had become a “major source of victimization and persecution of minorities” and had created a “state of fear and terror” for Pakistan’s religious minorities, Christians especially. The law, which President Zia Ul Haq enhanced in 1986 to please Islamist parties, is a convenient tool for personal vendettas and “fostered a climate of religiously motivated violence and persecution.” Defamation of Muhammad is supposed to merit mandatory death sentence, and desecrating a Koran merits life imprisonment, though these blasphemies are vaguely defined. The testimony of one complainant justifies immediate detention. Conviction does not require proof of deliberate intent. And courts are sometimes intimidated by threats of violence to convict.
In last year’s statement, the WCC noted that 647 people have reportedly been charged under the Blasphemy Law over the last 20 years. It specifically implored Pakistan to repeal the death penalty requirement and urged a halt to the Blasphemy Law’s “misuse.” That reluctance to demand complete repeal somewhat recalls the WCC’s traditional timidity when confronting other cultures over religious intolerance. But the WCC chief’s most recent statement more boldly urging full repeal on behalf of the “rights and dignity” of all Pakistanis hopefully indicates a more robust witness for religious liberty by the WCC.
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