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UN rights chief condemns Pakistan blasphemy law

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay [official profile] on Wednesday condemned [press release] the assassination of Pakistani Minister for Minority Affairs Shahbaz Bhatti and expressed her opposition to Pakistan's controversial blasphemy law [text; JURIST news archive]. Bhatti, a member of Pakistan's Christian minority and outspoken critic of Pakistan's blasphemy laws, was killed Tuesday while traveling to work [BBC report] when gunmen opened fire on his vehicle. Tehrik-i-Taliban [Geopolitical Monitor backgrounder] later said that it carried out the attack. "I urge the Government of Pakistan to honour the courageous stand of Mr. Bhatti and Mr. Taseer by supporting their position on the blasphemy laws." Pillay said in a statement. "To do otherwise will simply encourage similar acts of violence and lawlessness as a means of scaring governments off from making much needed human rights reforms. Murderers should not be rewarded by getting what they want, in terms of government policy."

Last month, a Pakistani court indicted [JURIST report] police guard Malik Mumtaz Hussain Qadri, accused of assassinating [JURIST report] liberal politician and governor of Pakistan's Punjab province Salman Taseer for opposing the nation's blasphemy law. Controversy surrounding Pakistan's blasphemy law has recently been reignited 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. Tasseer had spoken in Bibi's defense. In December, the Lahore High Court (LHC) [official website] ordered a stay against any amendments to Pakistan's blasphemy laws pending further proceedings. 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Minister for Minority Affairs Shahbaz Bhatti has said the laws may be amended to prevent misuse, but they will not be repealed.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Human Rights Watch [JURIST report], as well as LHC advocate Saroop Ijaz [JURIST op-ed] have called for the laws to be repealed.

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