Letter to Pakistani High Commission expresses dismay at blasphemy law reform
24 January 2014
The Methodist president and vice-president have expressed
grave concern over potential reforms to Pakistan's controversial
blasphemy law. The Revd Ruth Gee and Dr Daleep Mukarji have voiced
their fears in a letter to the Pakistani High Commission and the
British Foreign and Commonwealth Office.
The blasphemy law was radically changed in the 1980s to
impose life imprisonment for defiling a copy of the Qur'an and
death for insulting or criticising the prophet Muhammad. In 1988
Bishop John Joseph of Faisalabad publicly committed suicide in
protest against the laws; and although no one has yet been
executed, an estimated 1,200 to 4,000 blasphemy cases have been
filed. The number of cases (against both Muslims and Christians)
has increased in recent years, resulting in long prison terms, both
on remand and under sentence. Cases are often brought to settle
personal scores or target the vulnerable.
On 4 December 2013, Pakistan's Federal Sharia Court made
an order to make the death penalty the only lawful punishment for
blasphemy, removing the possibility of imprisonment as an
alternative. Many fear that such a reform would serve to increase
the persecution of Christians and other minority groups.
The government has until 4 February to either amend the
Penal Code or appeal the order.
In August 2012, fourteen year old Rimsha Masih was
detained in a maximum security prison for several weeks before
being forced to flee the country because she had been falsely
accused of burning pages of the Koran.
"It's hard to imagine that things could have been even
worse for Rimsha and her family, but that is the reality Pakistani
society is facing," said Ruth. "The only likely outcome of this
reform is that the law becomes the cause of even more unjust and
terrible abuses of those unable to defend
The text of the letter, which has also been sent to the
British Foreign and Commonwealth Office follows:
We write on behalf of the Methodist Church in Britain, one
of the largest Free Church denominations in the UK with around
230,000 members. The Methodist Church regards itself as a
long-standing friend of Pakistan and its people and we would like
to take the opportunity to extend to you our warmest
We are writing to express our concern about the Federal
Shariah Court's order, made on 4th December 2013 in relation to the
blasphemy law in Section 295 of the Penal Code.
The Methodist Church desires that all faiths and all
faithful people are treated with honour and respect and has no wish
to defend blasphemy. We have very valuable relationships with
other faiths both within our local communities and through national
organisations such as the Christian Muslim Forum in the UK and
partners in Pakistan. We appreciate the sensitivity of this issue,
however, it is our view that an obligatory death sentence for the
offence of blasphemy is an unjust response.
We realize that the Government may need to make a response
in the next few weeks and we hope and pray that it will feel able
to resist this move.
We think many of us, both within and without Pakistan,
recognize that there has been considerable misuse of the blasphemy
laws in recent years. Minorities and vulnerable people have been
targeted and personal scores have been settled, quite contrary to
the real intention of the law.
Naturally our concerns are not only for Christians in
Pakistan. It is clear that several minorities have suffered due to
prosecutions brought under the law in Section 295. If this
order is accepted by the government, achieving justice for those
accused of blasphemy will be an even more difficult
May we respectfully ask you to make known the deep anxiety
of the Methodist Church in Britain on this matter.
With our grateful thanks and very best wishes,
Revd Ruth Gee
President of the Methodist Conference
Dr Daleep Mukarji
Vice-President of the Methodist Conference