By BosNewsLife Asia Service with reporting by BosNewsLife's Stefan J. Bos
ISLAMABAD, PAKISTAN (BosNewsLife)-- Pakistan's government wants parliament to amend the country’s blasphemy legislation to end persecution against Christians and other minorities in this Islamic nation. Under a draft bill individuals van only be prosecuted if their deeds were "intentional," officials told Pakistani media.
It was not immediately clear what impact the changes could on more than a dozen Christian and other inmates. Some 14 individuals are known to be on death row while 19 others are serving life sentences on charges of committing blasphemy.
"The sheer number of cases registered in the past 25 years suggests the law has been widely abused. Investigations have revealed that often the reasons for the abuse stem from personal enmity, property disputes and religious hatred," commented The Express Tribune newspaper.
In one of the most serious recent incidents last year, a Christian couple was beaten by a mob and burned alive in a brick kiln in Punjab province on accusation of sacrilege, which later proved false.
The killing of bonded labourer Shehzad Masih and his pregnant wife Shama Bibi was no isolated incident, with the Islamabad-based Centre for Research and Security Studies says 52 people have been murdered in extrajudicial cases since 1990.
However Pakistan police have detained a cleric accused of leading a mob trying to kill another Christian couple who allegedly desecrated the Koran, deemed a holy book Muslims.
Police rescued the Christians from the crowd near the eastern city of Lahore last week in what was seen as a relatively unusual intervention in Pakistan, where those accused of blasphemy are sometimes lynched on the spot.
There was some more good news in recent days for a 94-year-old Christian landowner Chaudhry Habil Qaiser, who had attempted to resolve a disagreement over land profits In Nankana Sahib District of Punjab Province, BosNewsLife learned.
He was wrongfully accused of blaspheming Islam by someone who used to till his land, Christians said.
However the accuser, Maulvi Muhammad Bashir, later reportedly apologized for "turning a monetary dispute into a religious issue". As Chaudhry was widely respected throughout the district for his integrity, the case was also dismissed, Christians said.
The government now wants to see more cases dismissed amid international pressure from the European Union, United States and other countries.
Christians, who make up some two per cent of Pakistan's mostly Muslim population of 200 million, have been increasingly targeted in recent years, by both mob violence and militant attacks, rights activists say. Several churches and Christian homes have also been attacked by angry Muslims, including militants and bombers.