Within weeks of announcing a judicial curb on the country's severe laws against religious blasphemy, Pakistan's chief executive abruptly reversed his decision in an apparent concession to Muslim extremists.Under legal procedures instituted April 21, deputy commissioners would have been required to carry out an initial investigation and "thorough scrutiny" of any blasphemy accusations before allowing police to register a case, called a First Information Report (FIR). This reform would have effectively decreased the number of blasphemy cases that made it to court."I have decided to do away with the procedural change in registration of FIR under the blasphemy law," Gen. Pervez Musharraf announced in an about-face on May 16, according to the Pakistani newspaper Dawn. "No one can even think of changing it. No change was ever brought into this law."Musharraf had declared in April that his government was determined to restrict the arbitrary use of the blasphemy law.For the past 16 years, police have had wide-ranging authority to register such cases simply on the basis of a person's complaint against the accused.Several Christians have been sentenced to death by courts on what churches claim are framed or flimsy blasphemy charges, but these verdicts have been overturned by higher courts. However, a handful of Christians accused of blasphemy have been murdered by Muslim extremists even before their cases reached the courts.Protesting the law in May 1998, John Joseph, the Catholic bishop of Faislabad, shot and killed himself outside a court that had sentenced a Christian to death on a blasphemy charge (CT, April 26, 1999, p. 94).Pakistani Christians had received the government's earlier decision to ease restrictions on religious minorities ...1
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