WASHINGTON — Pakistan's minister for minority affairs promised Thursday to work to amend blasphemy laws used to target non-Muslims and said he was ready to die fighting.
Shahbaz Bhatti visited Washington at the invitation of the US Commission on International Religious Freedom, which awarded him a first-of-a-kind medallion for championing the rights of minorities in the Islamic state.
"The stand of the Pakistani government is to review, revisit and amend blasphemy laws so it will not remain a tool in the hands of extremists," Bhatti told commissioners from the bipartisan US government agency.
"They are using this law to victimize minorities as well as Muslims of Pakistan. This law is creating disharmony and intolerance in our society."
A longtime Christian community leader, Bhatti was named minister for minorities when civilian President Asif Ali Zardari took over last year, marking the first time the position has carried cabinet rank.
Bhatti said he has received threats for his work. Pakistan's religious affairs minister was wounded earlier this month in an assassination attempt in Islamabad that left his driver dead.
"I personally stand for religious freedom, even if I will pay the price of my life," Bhatti said. "I live for this principle and I want to die for this principle."
Pakistan's law against blaspheming Islam carries the death penalty. While no one has ever been sent to the gallows for the crime, activists say the law is used to exploit others out of personal enmity.
Earlier this week, a 25-year-old Christian jailed on blasphemy allegations died in prison. Authorities said he committed suicide but rights activists suspected he was tortured.
The death came weeks after an angry mob killed seven Christians in an arson attack that destroyed about 40 houses in the town of Gojra in central Punjab province.
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