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Rights Bodies Alarmed Over Surge In Pakistan's Blasphemy Cases

Supporters of Khalid Khan, the man who killed Tahir Nasim, who was in court on blasphemy charges, protest in Peshawar on July 31.

Police in Pakistan have filed blasphemy charges against at least 40 people in the past month, a surge that rights activists say is extremely troubling.

Most of the charges were filed against Shi'ite Muslims and relate to speeches made at religious processions, the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) said on September 7.

"It is an unprecedented rise, and we are worried it can flare up sectarian violence," HRCP chairman Mehdi Hasan told DPA.

Rights activists said laws have been used ruthlessly against the followers of other religions and minority Muslim faiths like Shi'a and Ahmadiyya in the Sunni-majority country.

Pakistan’s blasphemy laws, which were introduced by former military ruler Ziaul Haq in the 1980s, envisage death as the maximum punishment for insulting the religion or the Prophet Mohammed.

There has been a renewed focus after the U.S. State Department urged Pakistan to revisit the laws following the murder of a Pakistani-American man during his trial for blasphemy in July. Around 75 people facing blasphemy charges have been killed since 1980s by individuals or angry mobs even before their trials were concluded in the courts.

The HRCP chairman said the state had abdicated its responsibilities under the international rights obligation by leaving those accused of blasphemy to the mercy of mobs.