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Writers against blasphemy law

A group of writers - including Salman Rushdie - is campaigning to repeal blasphemy law.

india Updated: Feb 15, 2006 16:48 IST

A conglomerate of British writers and artists are spearheading a campaign to abolish the country's centuries-old blasphemy law that offers the Anglican Church special protection.

Launched by English PEN, a lobby group for freedom of expression, the campaign is led by best-selling author Philip Pullman and London's National Theatre Director Nicholas Hytner, The Times daily reported today.

Indian-born Salman Rushdie, who is facing death threats for his novel The Satanic Verses and playwright and film director Hanif Kureishi are also expected to join the campaign the paper said.

Britain's blasphemy law, introduced in 1697, only covers the Church of England and a 1938 ruling denies the law's coverage to all other religions, including other Christian faiths.

That is why angry Muslims could not invoke it in regard to Rushdie's Satanic Verses, the daily said.

"The right response would be to repeal it altogether and let religion, like every other form of human thought, take its chance in free, open debate," Hytner told the Times.

"Exactly the wrong response would be to extend them to cover other religions," he added.

Rushdie was quoted by the paper as saying that he was relieved that authors would not face prosecution for criticising religion.

The blasphemy law was last used was in 1977 against the editor of Gay News for publishing a poem about a gay Army commander's love for Christ.

The law remains on the books despite parliament ado.