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In Pakistan, girl freed but blasphemy debate still stuck

Activists seeking to reform Pakistan's stringent blasphemy laws had hoped this case would spur change. 

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Although some religious clerics came out in support of the minor girl, asking for the cleric to be punished, there was no talk of changing or repealing the laws by these religious lobbies.

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“There should be no change in the law because otherwise people will pick up guns and resort to violence themselves. The country can become very insecure,” says Ibtisam Elahi, an Islamic scholar, who is part of a religious alliance that opposes Pakistan’s friendly relations with the United States and India.

“All laws are prone to abuse – but that does not mean they should be done away with,” Elahi adds, saying the persecution of the Christian minority in Pakistan does not exist and it is just “western media and NGO propaganda.”

Pakistan's Christian community

Pakistan's roughly 2.7 million Christians make up less than 2 percent of the population. The Christianity community here, both Roman Catholic and Protestant, traces much of its roots back to missionary efforts during British rule of the Indian subcontinent. 

"In rural Punjab, a substantial proportion of the discrimination against the [Christian] community has been correlated to land grabbing," reads a report from last year by the Jinnah Institute, a Pakistani nongovernmental organization. "After some of the more serious mob attacks such as [in] Gojra, Christian residents often did not return to their homes. Personal property and land, was, in most cases, taken by local Muslim residents." 

Pakistan has registered nearly 1,000 blasphemy cases since 1986, with 180 of those against Christians and hundreds more against other religious minorities.

Mr. Jacob, the minority rights activist, says that the government lost the opportunity once again to engage with elements in Pakistan that are usually unwilling to listen on blasphemy law reform.

“This was the time to constitute an inquiry commission, for example, that could have sat down with those who oppose the reforms and use the girl’s case to highlight the rampant abuse of this law but that did not happen,” Jacob says.

He also says the way the girl was airlifted from the jail reflects the government’s inability to stop the violence of extremists. 

“No one wants to talk about the reforms openly. It is just a few people who are asking for it to be repealed. And they are being killed one by one. First it was Salmaan Taseer, then the minorities minister - Shahbaz Bhatti. Tomorrow it will be me, and one day there will be no one left to stand up against the abuse,” says Ms. Sirmed.

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