Pope Benedict XVI on Monday called on Pakistan to scrap a controversial law against blasphemy, saying it served as “a pretext for acts of injustice and violence against religious minorities.”
“I once more encourage the leaders of that country to take the necessary steps to abrogate that law,” the leader of the world’s 1 billion Catholics said in a traditional New Year’s address to ambassadors to the Vatican.
“The tragic murder of the governor of Punjab shows the urgent need to make progress in this direction,” he said, referring to the killing of Salman Taseer by one of his bodyguards last week over his liberal position on the law.
Controversy over the legislation flared both within Pakistan and internationally after a Christian mother-of-five, Asia Bibi, was sentenced to hang last year for making derogatory remarks about the prophet Mohammed.
The pope has called for Bibi, who is awaiting execution, to be released.
More than 50,000 people rallied in Pakistan’s southern city of Karachi on Sunday against calls for a reform of the blasphemy law, which have angered the country’s increasingly powerful conservative religious base.
In his address, the pope also condemned anti-Christian attacks in Egypt and Iraq, saying they showed “the urgent need for governments of the region to adopt ... effective measures for the protection of religious minorities.”
A bomb attack against a Coptic Christian church in Alexandria on New Year’s Day killed 21 people. Forty-four worshipers and two priests were left dead after militants stormed a church in central Baghdad in October.
Addressing himself to political and religious leaders in Iraq, the pope said that Christians in the country should “be able to live in security, continuing to contribute to the society in which they are fully members.”
The pope also said the Roman Catholic Church should be able to operate freely through “suitable pastoral structures” in the Arabian Peninsula. The peninsula is dominated by ultra-conservative countries including Saudi Arabia.
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