Two prominent politicians were assassinated in 2011 for urging reform of the law. The killer of one of the politicians was hailed as a hero, and lawyers at his legal appearances showered him with rose petals.
According to Human Rights Watch, there are at least 16 people on death row in Pakistan for blasphemy and another 20 are serving life sentences.
While Muslims are frequently accused of blasphemy, members of Pakistan’s small Christian community are especially vulnerable to the accusations. Christians make up less than 5 percent of Pakistan’s 180 million people and many hold low-paying jobs, such as cleaning and street sweeping.
Last year, there was a rare reversal of a blasphemy case against A teenage Christian girl with suspected mental disabilities who was accused of burning pages of the Quran. She was released after a huge domestic and international outcry about her treatment. A local Muslim cleric was arrested and accused of planting the pages in her bag to incriminate her, a rare example of the accuser facing legal consequences. However, he was later freed on bail.
Associated Press Writer Rasool Dawar in Peshawar and Adil Jawad in Karachi, Pakistan, contributed to this report.