Report on Pakistan's Christian Persecution Suggests Change in Blasphemy Law

A recently released, highly researched report conducted by a senior judge suggests that violence against Christians in Pakistan over the past five years could have been prevented by the country's local authorities.

The report also suggests that the country's blasphemy laws be modified to prevent future violence, primarily through removing special protection for Muslims and inserting punishment for those who exaggerate blasphemy accusations.

The Pakistani government reportedly ordered a senior judge to conduct a review following the anti-Christian riots which took place in 2009 in Gojra town, in the Punjab province of Pakistan, during which eight Christians were killed after angry mobs, fueled by the rumor that a Quran had been desecrated, torched Christian homes, a church, and shot at Christians in the streets.

The mob, which accumulated strength in numbers over several days following encouraging sermons at local mosques, torched the Christian neighborhoods of Gojra after it was rumored that family members of a Christian couple used torn-up pieces of the Quran as confetti at a Christian wedding ceremony.

Although 113 suspects were arrested for their alleged involvement in the riots, no one was ultimately tried because no witnesses were willing to testify. One resident, Rafiq Masih, told the London Times shortly after the riots that police stood idly by while the rampage ensued.

According to The Christian Science Monitor, the recent report amounts to 318 pages and contains interviews with 600 people, including politicians and intelligence officials.

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The purpose of the report is not only to address the 2009 incident but also to determine how to end the violence relating to more recent disputes, including an incident in April in which a Muslim mob attacked a Christian neighborhood in Gujranwala, resulting in the injury of five Christians and the damaging of property, including a church and vehicles.

As The Christian Science Monitor reports, the extensive research finds that local intelligence agencies and law enforcement were aware that the banned Muslim extremist group Sipah-e-Sahaba was organizing riots against Christian neighborhoods in 2009, yet they did nothing to stop the violence.

In fact, the report states that police fled the scene of the riots when the violence grew unmanageable, instead of staying to protect the Christians who, according to reports from the London Times, sought shelter in their homes from the growing mob.

The conclusion of the report echoes similar urgings from the National Council of Churches in Pakistan and the country's Catholic Bishop Conference, which, following the violence in 2009, urged country officials to repeal its strict blasphemy laws. They argue that the laws favor Muslims and place hundreds of Christians in danger through no fault of their own.

The World Council of Churches called the country's blasphemy laws "a major source of victimization and persecution" of religious minorities, who live in "in a state of fear and terror."

The organization also called on Pakistan to "guarantee the rights of all religious minorities in the country."

The country's blasphemy laws are some of the strictest in the world, and include punishment – in some cases, imprisonment for life or death – for outraging the religious feelings of Muslims.

The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom also recently released its annual report in which it called on the U.S. government to designate Pakistan as one among eight other countries "of particular concern" in regards to its abuses against religious minorities.

"The government continues to fail to protect Christians, Ahmadis and Hindus," the report says of Pakistan, noting that allegations of blasphemy "are widely used to violate religious freedoms and foster a climate of impunity."

"Pakistan is in a crisis right now with these particularly severe violations of religious freedom," Knox Thames, the commission's director of policy and research, said in a statement, as reported by The Express Tribune.

Currently, Christians remain a small minority in the predominately Muslim country, making up about 1.6 percent of the population.

Continued violence in the country has resulted in some Christians retaliating by standing to defend their property instead of running for safety, as they have previously done, as seen when dozens of Christians sought to defend their homes during the neighborhood attacks in May in Gujranwala.

As one local bishop in the Lahore community previously told The Blaze, often times blasphemy accusations in the country really have to do with a personal dispute, but Muslims will falsely invoke blasphemy claims as payback.

Subsequently, politicians will not revoke the claims because they don't want to appear to be soft against blasphemers.

The country evidently does take blasphemy seriously, as two politicians were assassinated in 2011 for urging to reform blasphemy laws.

Still, occasionally accusers have been charged. In November 2012, a Pakistani court threw out the blasphemy charges against a teenage Christian girl who was accused of burning pages of the Quran.

The girl was freed on the grounds that the accusations against her were not legally sound, and her accuser, a Muslim cleric, was arrested for apparently tampering with evidence, although he was later released on bail.