PAKISTANI politicians have accused the Pope of interfering in state matters after he called for controversial blasphemy laws to be scrapped.
Benedict XVI urged the Islamic nation to repeal the legislation — which carries the death penalty for insulting Islam — a week after the shooting of the governor of Punjab, who had criticised the laws.
“I once more encourage the leaders of that country to take the necessary steps to abrogate that law,” the Pope said.
“The tragic murder of the governor of Punjab shows the urgent need to make progress in this direction.”
He added that the legislation had been used as a pretext for violence against non-Muslims.
The laws have come under scrutiny after the sentencing to death of Aasia Bibi, a Christian, for insulting Islam, in a case that has divided the country further.
Islamic party leaders condemned the Pope’s comments.
“Pakistan is an Islamic ideological state and the Pope cannot tell us to change our laws, which are in conformity to our belief,” said Hafiz Hussain Ahmed, a senior leader of Jamiat-e-Ulema Islam, one of the country’s largest Islamic groups supporting the blasphemy laws.
Farid Paracha, the leader of Jamaat-i-Islami, the most powerful Islamic party in the nation, said: “The Pope’s statement is an insult to Muslims across the world.”
Critics say the laws, enacted under military rule in the 1980s, discriminate against minority groups.
Malik Mumtaz Hussain Qadri has admitted shooting Punjab governor Salman Taseer, who had campaigned to reform the laws and sought a presidential pardon for Ms Bibi.
Hundreds gathered at the court and showered petals on the bodyguard when he attended last week, and more than 50,000 people from religious groups rallied in Karachi on Sunday in support of Qadri, calling him a hero and demanding that any effort to reform the blasphemy law be dropped.
The governor’s shooting outside an Islamabad coffee shop was the most high-profile assassination in Pakistan since ex-PPP prime minister Benazir Bhutto was killed in December 2007.
Her son, and the son of President Asif Ali Zardari, condemned Qadri’s supporters yesterday, saying they were “the real blasphemers”.
“Because of you (who praise Qadri), the message of Islam is distorted in the eyes of the world,” Bilawal Bhutto Zardari said, speaking to mourners yesterday at the Pakistan high commission in London.
“Those who attack my religion, especially those who corrupt its peaceful message, you are what I call covert blasphemers and you will be defeated. This will be our jihad.”
Mr Bhutto Zardari further pledged to defend Christians and other minorities in the country.
“We will defend you. For those who wish to harm you for a crime you did not commit, they will have to go through me first,” he said.
He compared the killing of Taseer to that of his mother, saying they had both died defending the real message of Islam.
“My mother embraced martyrdom while defending our faith. She was martyred doing her jihad against those who had hijacked our religion,” said Mr Bhutto Zardari.
“On January 4, Shaheed Salman Taseer was assassinated because he, too, refused to be silenced. He, too, was assassinated in defence of our religion. He died defending the message of Islam.”