Muslim extremists have urged followers to murder several Pakistani Christians and legal reformers who have been haphazardly accused of blaspheming Muhammad.

"The current blasphemy law is just a license to wipe Christianity from Pakistan," says Manny Alam, president of the Philadelphia-based Pakistan-American Christian Association.

On top of the hit list is Pakistan's Minister of Law, Iqbal Haider, who has been reviled for recently proposing revisions in the country's blasphemy laws, which many say have been widely abused. A Muslim cleric has placed a $40,000 price tag on Haider's head and promised that whoever kills Haider will be considered an Islamic martyr.

The death penalty has been in force in Pakistan since 1991 for anyone convicted of blaspheming Muhammad.

Christians, however, including top officials such as Haider, say the law has been abused by some radical Muslims due to business or political rivalties.

"We are being persecuted by law," says John Alexander Malik, a Pakistani Anglican bishop. He calls the blasphemy laws "religious cleansing."

The Pakistani Human Rights Commission has produced an investigative report indicating that hundreds of Christians and moderate Muslims have been falsely accused.

On April 5, Muslim extremists attacked two men, one a Presbyterian, awaiting trial on accusations of blasphemy; they killed a third man. That prompted the Pakistani Christian community to begin its active campaign to repeal the blasphemy laws.

Haider and Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto want to amend the laws to require blasphemy charges to be filed in the courts rather than with police, and to inflict a ten-year prison sentence on anyone proven to accuse another of blasphemy falsely.

So far, 18 cases are known to have ...

Subscriber access only You have reached the end of this Article Preview

To continue reading, subscribe now. Subscribers have full digital access.

Our digital archives are a work in progress. Let us know if corrections need to be made.