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Minorities Fearful Following Death Sentences

Religious minorities fear they are becoming targets for radical Muslims, after a 14-year-old Christian boy and his uncle were sentenced to hang on charges of writing antiIslamic slogans on a mosque.

Salamat Masih and his uncle, Rehmat Masih, were convicted Thursday of insulting Islam, which carries a mandatory death penalty. The trial was held in the eastern city of Lahore.

Amnesty International and other human rights groups have criticized Pakistan’s blasphemy laws, introduced during the 1980s. The laws prohibit any criticism of Islam or its 7th-century founder, the prophet Mohammed.

The independent Human Rights Commission of Pakistan has lobbied to have the laws repealed, saying they are vague and easily manipulated.

“Today we are feeling so insecure,” said Bishop Alexander Malik of the Church of Pakistan, which includes several Christian denominations.

“We can’t say things openly without our words being used as a pretext for filing a charge of blasphemy,” he told The Associated Press in a telephone interview from Lahore. “These fundamentalists and extremists are using these cases to settle enmities.”

The anti-Islamic slogans were allegedly written in May 1993 and were not introduced at the trial, defense attorney Asma Jehangir said. Witnesses said they were written in chalk and erased immediately. They refused to repeat them in court, saying they were offensive to Islam.

At least six people have been sentenced to death under the blasphemy laws, though no one has been executed. However, angry mobs of religious extremists have killed several people accused of blasphemy.