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Pakistan Catholics fear Islamic Law Bill

Catholic Religious superiors in Pakistan fear that religious freedom will be further curbed now that one of the country's four provinces has introduced the strict Islamic legal code known as Shariat.

The assembly of North West Frontier Province, where the alliance of six Islamic fundamentalist parties called Muttahida Majilis-e-Amal Pakistan (MMA) has an absolute majority, last month passed Shariat Bill 2003.

The province, the first to enact such legislation, borders Afghanistan and is an area where sympathy runs high for the Taliban and the terrorist group Al Qaeda.

In a statement last week, the Justice and Peace Commission of the Major Superiors Leadership Conference of Pakistan expressed apprehension that the MMA will emulate the ousted Taliban, the former Islamic regime that ruled Afghanistan.

The commission said that enforcement of Shariat in the province will impinge on the rights of religious minorities.

Commission Secretary Fr Albert Youhanna OP said that the bill is causing "unrest and strife among people, especially women and children residing in the province".

He also denounced efforts by the hard-line religious alliance to impose a "Taliban-like" regime in the province and argued that such efforts are against the fundamental rights of Pakistanis and will increase sectarian violence.

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