GENEVA (Reuters) - As a film insulting Islam prompted Muslim leaders in many countries to call for a global law against blasphemy, a major Christian grouping said just such a ban in Pakistan was used to persecute other religions.
Abuse of Pakistan’s Blasphemy Law put the Islamic country’s Christian, Hindu and Ahmadi Muslims in “a state of fear and terror”, the World Council of Churches (WCC) said on Monday.
Representatives of those minorities told a conference on the law organised by the WCC - which links Protestant, Orthodox and evangelical churches - of mob lynchings and widespread mistreatment of those accused of blasphemy.
“In Pakistan, we are fighting against the blasphemy law and its abuse,” said Mohammed Tahseen of campaign group the South Asia Partnership.
The recent arrest of a Christian girl who faced a possible death penalty for what later appeared to be false charges of burning a Koran was just one of many such cases, he said.
However, Pakistani Muslim representatives told the gathering that not only should the law stay but another was needed covering the whole world.
Their stance echoed calls from key Islamic religious leaders across the Muslim world for an enforceable international pact through the United Nations criminalising insult to Islamic and other religious symbols.
The calls came as Muslims around the globe protested against a U.S.-made video portraying Mohammad as a fool and a womaniser. The U.S. government has criticised the film but made clear it stands by the constitutional provision for free speech.
Several protesters have died, and four U.S. diplomats, including the ambassador to Libya, were killed in an attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi in an echo of earlier Muslim protests over books and cartoons published in the West.
The 57-nation Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) has been pushing for years for some kind of global law against on defamation of religion at the U.N. Human Rights Council, currently meeting in Geneva.
Every year for more than a decade until 2010 the council - where Pakistan speaks for the OIC and often accuses the West of “Islamophobia” - passed resolutions proposed by the Islamic grouping.
But there was no chance of converting such non-binding declarations into a legal pact due to opposition from the United States, Europe and some Latin American countries which argued it would violate free speech and the U.N.’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Following diplomatic negotiations spearheaded by the United States after the administration of President Barack Obama joined the council, the OIC dropped its campaign two years ago.
“It certainly looks as though they (the OIC) might use this furore over a video that everyone recognises is stupid and pathetic to try to relaunch the ‘defamation’ campaign,” said one Western diplomat who asked not to be named.
Editing by Robin Pomeroy