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Pope offers rare criticism of Pakistan blasphemy law

Pope Benedict XVI has called for more protection for Christian minorities in majority-Muslim nations, uncharacteristically singling out Pakistan over its anti-blasphemy laws.

Pope Benedict XVI kneels during a service in St. Peter's Basilica

Benedict called for more protection for Christians

Pope Benedict XVI has spoken out against an anti-blasphemy law in Pakistan, which the pontiff said serves as a pretext for the persecution of religious minorities.

Speaking in his annual address to foreign diplomats to the Vatican, Benedict said the law, which legislates punishment including the death penalty for anti-Islam statements, bred acts of "injustice and violence."

"I once more encourage the leaders of that country to take the necessary steps to abrogate that law," he said.

"The tragic murder of the governor of Punjab shows the urgent need to make progress in this direction," Benedict added, referring to the killing of Salman Taseer last week.

Taseer, who was known as a liberal voice in Islamic Pakistan, had called for reform of the anti-blasphemy law, which had been used to sentence a Christian mother of four to death by hanging.

Comments on Pakistan unexpected

Benedict went on to say that governments must do more to protect Christians in majority-Muslim countries. His comments come after recent deadly attacks on Christians in Egypt and Iraq.

The remarks singling out Pakistan were somewhat unexpected as the pontiff has traditionally spoken in more general terms when making such statements.

Pakistani Christians, who make up around 2 percent of the population in the country, are particularly fearful of the anti-blasphemy law, convictions under which often rely on witness testimony, which Christians say can be linked to personal vendettas.

Convictions are often thrown out upon appeal, but the resultant public anger has often ended in the accused becoming the subject of attacks.

In July last year, two Christian brothers accused of writing a blasphemous letter against the Prophet Muhammad were gunned down outside a court in the eastern city of Faisalabad.

Author: Darren Mara (AFP, AP, Reuters)
Editor: Martin Kuebler

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