The politicians, Punjab province Gov. Salmaan Taseer and Minister for Minorities Shahbaz Bhatti, had spoken out in defense of Asia Bibi, a Christian sentenced to death in 2010 for allegedly insulting Islam's Prophet Muhammad. Bibi, whose case prompted international criticism, is believed to be the first woman condemned to die under the statute and remains in prison.
The laws retain broad support in Pakistan, where Islamic conservatism is on the rise alongside extremism and Muslims are highly sensitive about their faith. Taseer's killer, for instance, was hailed as a hero in many quarters. Thousands of people rallied to support him, and lawyers showered him with rose petals.
Many human rights activists, partly out of their own security concerns, have tempered their demands: years ago, they used to call for the blasphemy laws' repeal, but now they say the laws should be reformed to prevent misuse. Even leaders of minority religious groups have often said they support the law but simply do not want to see it abused.
Although there's no sign that the weak civilian government plans to amend the law, the case of the Christian girl has brought some hope that sentiments about it may change. Even some Islamist clerics sympathized with the girl, whose age has been said to be 14 or younger and who may be developmentally disabled.
Witness claims that a Muslim cleric stashed pages of a Quran in the girl's bag to make it seem as if she burned them have added to the sympathy for her. The cleric is accused of planting the evidence to push Christians out of the neighborhood and is now being investigated for blasphemy himself. He denies any wrongdoing.
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