[JURIST] Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari [official website] said Monday that the country's blasphemy laws would not be misused to persecute religious beliefs. Zardari's comments came after an 11-year-old Christian was arrested last week for allegedly desecrating pages of a religious text. Police said after the girl's arrest that she may have Down syndrome. Zardari has ordered an investigation [UPI report] into the arrest. A human rights official in the country said that the situation should have been investigated before the girl was arrested, and that the arrest was a clear misuse of blasphemy laws. A spokesperson for Zardari said that while the president does not condone blasphemy, he is concerned about reports that the laws are being misused. Blasphemy laws in Pakistan carry penalties ranging from a fine to capital punishment.
An ongoing source of international concern, blasphemy laws [JURIST news archive] are currently in effect in several countries around the world. The US Department of State (DOS) last month released [JURIST report] its annual International Religious Freedom Report, documenting threats to religious freedom throughout the world. The report documents current international threats to religious freedom—particularly laws that punish religious traditions and blasphemy laws that are often used to punish religious tolerance. Earlier that month an Indonesian court sentenced a Shia cleric to two years in prison on blasphemy charges [JURIST report], finding that his teachings deviated from mainstream Islam resulting in "public anxiety" over Muluk's pronouncements. In March 2011 UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay expressed her opposition to Pakistan's controversial blasphemy laws [JURIST report], urging their repeal after the assassination of Pakistani Minister for Minority Affairs Shahbaz Bhatti, a member of Pakistan's Christian minority and outspoken critic of Pakistan's blasphemy laws. In November 2010 Saroop Ijaz, an advocate before the Lahore High Court in Pakistan, wrote that Pakistan's blasphemy laws should be repealed [JURIST op-ed] if the country is to function as a democracy and address the threat of extremism both at home and abroad.