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In Pakistan, girl freed but blasphemy debate still stuck

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“The text of the law has problems; but even if that is changed, it is the mind-set of society that needs to be changed,” says Marvi Sirmed, a social activist, who has been threatened many times over her strong secular views. “Until and unless the state divorces itself from religion, and becomes secular, persecution of minorities will continue to happen,” Ms. Sirmed adds.

Religious clerics and a majority of the population in Pakistan still defend the laws, and do not tolerate any talks of reforms. Such support was underscored by the case of Salmaan Taseer, the governor of Pakistan's Punjab province. When Mr. Taseer publicly denounced the laws last year and supported a Christian woman facing a death sentence for blasphemy, he was assassinated in broad daylight by his own police guard, Mumtaz Qadri. Mr. Qadri is on death row now but enjoys popular support in the country and is considered as a hero by many in Pakistan.

Although some religious clerics came out in support of the minor girl, asking for the cleric to be punished, there was no talk of changing or repealing the laws by these religious lobbies.

“There should be no change in the law because otherwise people will pick up guns and resort to violence themselves. The country can become very insecure,” says Ibtisam Elahi, an Islamic scholar, who is part of a religious alliance that opposes Pakistan’s friendly relations with the United States and India.

“All laws are prone to abuse – but that does not mean they should be done away with,” Elahi adds, saying the persecution of the Christian minority in Pakistan does not exist and it is just “western media and NGO propaganda.”

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