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Pakistan president seeks review of blasphemy laws

Pakistan President General Pervez Musharraf has said the country's blasphemy laws, which imposes the death penalty for blasphemy against Mohammad or the Koran, should be scrutinised so prevent their misuse to victimise the innocent.

AsiaNews reports that Christians have responded with "cautious hope".

Minority groups and NGOs claim some people misuse these laws and their wide definition of defamation to settle personal grudges. Several Christians have been convicted under the blasphemy laws.

In a press release on Tuesday, Catholic Bishops Conference President, Lahore Archbishop Lawrence Saldanha, welcomed the President's actions.

"Review the Hudood Ordinance and the Blasphemy Law ... has been a long-standing demand of human rights organisations," he said. "

Peter Jacob, executive secretary of the Catholic bishops' National Commission for Justice and Peace, commented, "We have to see the result. The president talked previously about misuse of the blasphemy laws, but no serious steps were taken."

According to Archbishop Saldanha: "What is crucially needed is a tolerant society and an end to discrimination against a large and important section of the population, namely, women. At the same time there is need to put an end to laws that discriminate against the minorities."

In 1998, high profile human rights activist Bishop John Joseph took his own life in protest against the death sentence given to a Christian of his diocese, Ayub Masih, for blaspheming Islam.

Christians form less than 2% of Pakistan's 147 million people, about 95% of whom are Muslims.

President calls again for review of blasphemy laws; Christians wait for "facts" ( 20/5/04)
Forced conversion to Islam fatal for Christian boy (CathNews 11/5/04)
Pakistan minority leaders criticise police over murder investigation (CathNews 11/8/03)

21 May 2004