Pakistani President's discussion with Pope Benedict XVI

CASTEL GANDOLFO, Italy, Oct.02, 2009 - Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari and Benedict XVI have discussed anti-Christian violence in Pakistan, emphasizing the need to overcome discrimination.

The leader of the Islamic republic visited the Pope today in Castel Gandolfo.

A communiqué from the Vatican press office characterized the discussion as "cordial," saying it "provided an opportunity to examine the current situation in Pakistan, with particular reference to the fight against terrorism and the commitment to create a society more tolerant and harmonious in all its aspects."

The communiqué added: "Talk then turned to the positive role played by the Catholic Church in the social life of the country through her educational, health care and aid activities.

"Evoking recent episodes of violence against Christian communities in some localities, and the elements that have favored such serious incidents, emphasis was given to the need to overcome all forms of discrimination based on religious affiliation, with the aim of promoting respect for the rights of all citizens."

Christians and Hindus combined make up only 5% of Pakistan's 176 million people.

Pretext

A series of violent incidents in the last few months have resulted in the death of several Christians at the hands of Muslim fundamentalists.

In this regard, Christians are urging the repeal of an anti-blasphemy law, which they claim gives Muslims "an invisible sword."

These laws were at the heart of a conflict in September, for example, when a Muslim mother, enraged at her adolescent daughter's romance with a Christian, accused the young man of desecrating the Quran. The boy was arrested and executed in prison.

The anti-blasphemy regulation went into effect in 1986; it calls for life imprisonment or death for those who blaspheme Mohammed or desecrate the Quran. Most of those who have been prosecuted under the law are Muslims.

However, the World Council of Churches says the law keeps minorities living in a "state of fear and terror" since it is often invoked as a way to punish minorities in business disputes.

In 2000, then President Pervez Musharraf tried to reform the law but failed under the pressure of fundamentalist groups.

Zardari, in office for just over a year, has announced that his government would work against the abuse of the legislation and increase vigilance.

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