Rioting and turmoil have followed the death of Roman Catholic bishop and human-rights activist John Joseph, who killed himself in protest of a death sentence imposed on another Christian under Pakistan's blasphemy law.

On May 6, Joseph, 66, bishop of Faisalabad and chair of the human-rights group National Justice and Peace Commission, shot himself in the head.

Joseph's suicide protested the death sentence pronounced on Ayub Masih, 25, by a local judge. Masih had been convicted April 27 of slandering Islam by speaking favorably about Salman Rushdie, author of Satanic Verses. On May 12, the two-judge Lahore High Court suspended the death sentence of Masih, a Catholic.

Preaching at a mass on May 6, Joseph declared that the difficulties facing the Christian community in Pakistan would continue until someone made a large sacrifice.

Under the blasphemy law, introduced in 1986, "anyone who directly or indirectly by word, gesture, innuendo, or otherwise defiles the name of the holy prophet Muhammad will be punished with death or life imprisonment." More than a dozen Christians have been jailed under the law. Three had been condemned to death but were acquitted on appeal.

Thousands of Christian mourners protested against the blasphemy laws at Joseph's funeral on May 8 in Faisalabad. Police fired tear gas into the crowd, and bullets injured three people. Christians also marched and rioted in Karachi.

A mob of Muslim extremists burned homes and shops in Faisalabad on May 10 in reaction to the protests by the Christian community. About 500 Muslims rampaged through the town screaming in favor of the blasphemy laws. Joseph was buried on the grounds of Saints Peter and Paul Cathedral in Faisalabad.

Thousands of Christians took to the streets May 15 to protest the laws. About 600 were arrested after they set fire to vehicles and shops. About 2 million of Pakistan's 140 million people are Christians.

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