November 23, 2010 - 19:14 AMT
PanARMENIAN.Net - Pakistan will not repeal its controversial blasphemy law but may amend it to prevent abuse because scrapping the legislation could fuel Islamist militancy, a government minister said on Tuesday, November 23.
The law, which carries the death penalty for insulting Islam or its Prophet Mohammad, has come under the spotlight this month after a court sentenced a Christian mother of four, Asia Bibi, to death in a case stemming from a village dispute.
Widespread media attention on the case has led to renewed appeals by human rights groups for the repeal of the law but Minister for Minorities Shahbaz Bhatti said that would not happen.
“(Repeal) is not being considered though we are considering changing it so that misuse of the law should be stopped,” Bhatti told Reuters. The law enjoys widespread support in Pakistan, which is more than 95 percent Muslim, and politicians are loathe to be seen as soft on the defense of the religion.
Blasphemy convictions are common although the death sentence has never been carried out. Most convictions are thrown out on appeal, but angry mobs have killed many people accused of blasphemy.
Asia Bibi, mother of four, is the first woman to be sentenced to death under Pakistan’s controversial blasphemy law which rights groups say is often exploited by religious extremists as well as ordinary Pakistanis to settle personal scores.
The 36-year-old farm worker was taken into custody by police in June last year and was convicted by a lower court on Nov. 8. She has been in prison since then, with her case drawing international media attention as well as appeals by human rights groups, and, according to Pakistani media, Pope Benedict.
Bibi’s brother-in-law George Masih told Reuters that she was arrested for allegedly insulting the Prophet Mohammad after a dispute with fellow workers in the town of Nankana in Pakistan’s Punjab province.