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Pakistan court delays efforts to amend blasphemy laws

The Lahore High Court (LHC) [official website] on Monday ordered a stay against any amendments to Pakistan's blasphemy laws [text; JURIST news archive] pending further proceedings. The court ruled [The News report] on a petition filed by a citizen, which argued that parliament does not have the right to amend the law. Controversy surrounding Pakistan's blasphemy law has recently been ignited over the case of Asia Bibi, a Christian woman sentenced to death for insulting the Prophet Muhammad [JURIST news archive] during an argument with other women in her village last year. The court found [ANI report] that parliament may not take any action on amending the blasphemy laws until it delivers its final verdict in the case. The next hearing is scheduled for December 23. The LHC also postponed [AsiaNews report] the hearing for Bibi's pardon indefinitely.

The blasphemy laws were introduced in 1986 as a way of protecting Muslim beliefs from insults. In response to the repeated calls for repeal, Pakistani Federal Minister for Minority Affairs Shahbaz Bhatti [official profile] has said the laws may be amended to prevent misuse, but they will not be repealed. Advocacy groups such as Human Rights Watch [JURIST report], as well as LHC advocate Saroop Ijaz [JURIST op-ed] have called for the laws to be repealed. In February, Bhatti told the Agence France-Presse that he has been speaking to various political parties [JURIST report] in Pakistan and that his government is committed to doing away with laws [AP report] that are discriminatory to minorities. Bhatti made the comments at an interview with the AFP in Washington, DC, where he met with various lawmakers and officials during the National Prayer Breakfast. Bhatti discussed a proposed change in the law that would force judges to investigate blasphemy cases before they are docketed.

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