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Pakistani clerics suggest amendment to blasphemy laws

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Pakistani Christian villagers march during a protest against the country's strict blasphemy laws in Korian on August 30, 2012. Pakistan's top religious clerics Wednesday suggested amendments to the country's controversial blasphemy laws, proposing the death penalty for people convicted of making false accusations.AFP/File

Pakistan's top religious clerics Wednesday suggested amendments to the country's controversial blasphemy laws, proposing the death penalty for people convicted of making false accusations.

Blasphemy is an extremely sensitive issue in Pakistan, where 97 percent of the population is Muslim, and insulting the Prophet Mohammed can be punished by death under the country's penal code.

Even unproven allegations can provoke a violent public response, and critics say the law is often used to settle personal scores.

The country's Council of Islamic Ideology (CII) suggested the government should bring in the death penalty for people convicted of making false accusations of blasphemy.

"All the religious scholars agreed to put an end to the misuse of blasphemy laws," scholar Allama Tahir Mehmood Ashrafi told AFP.

"Keeping in view the suggestions of human rights activists and civil society members, the Council of Ideology has decided to fix the same penalty for the person who falsely accuses of blasphemy as the accused," he added.

Ashrafi said the proposed amendment would ensure that "nobody dares to use religion to settle personal scores".

"The amendment will also silence critics of the blasphemy laws," he added.

In 2011, Punjab governor Salman Taseer and minorities minister Shahbaz Bhatti were assassinated for demanding that the blasphemy law be reformed.

Asia Bibi, a Christian mother of five, remains in prison after being sentenced to death in November 2010 after another women claimed she had made derogatory remarks toward the Prophet Mohammed.

The council also reversed an earlier decision about the use of DNA as evidence in rape cases, which it had refused to accept.

"The council has now left the matter of DNA evidence for the courts," Ashrafi said.