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Pakistan : Yousuf Raza Decides Not To Amend Blasphemy Law

The Pakistan’s Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gillani ‘bowed down’ to pressure and this is bad news for Christians and other minorities in the country.

Christians and other minorities in this troubled country –officially known as the Islamic Republic of Pakistan — have received some bad news, and it is that the Government will not be amending the country’s controversial blasphemy law.

Pakistan’s Prime Minister

This decision followed on the heels of massive countrywide protests against the government by Islamic and mainstream opposition parties who had taken to the streets to demand that there be no amendments to the blasphemy law that has been widely criticized around the world by many leaders, including Pope Benedict XVI, as well as by many human rights groups.

The protestors had demanded that the Pakistani government makes clear its stance over the issue of blasphemy law, which uses its Penal Code to prohibit and punish blasphemy against Islam.

The Criminal Code provides penalties for blasphemy ranging from a fine to death. An accusation of blasphemy commonly subjects the accused, police, lawyers, and judges to harassment, threats, and attacks. An accusation is sometimes the prelude to vigilantism and rioting.

The Prime Minister who in my opinion “bowed down” to the protestors, then told parliament in a speech before the National Assembly in Islamabad, on Wednesday, February 2, 2011, that his government would not touch the legislation, which human rights groups say is routinely abused to persecute minorities and settle personal scores.

“We are all unanimous that nobody wants to change the law,” he said as many clapped his comments. (Of course, critics of the law, would not agree with this statement.)

Supporters of a religious party chant slogans during a rally against Pope Benedict XVI’s recent statements about Pakistan’s blasphemy laws, in Lahore

The Prime Minister called upon parliamentarians, media, and Islamic scholars to come forward and help the government of Pakistan to introduce a mechanism to stop the misuse of the blasphemy law.

“Most of registered cases under the blasphemy law have reported against Muslims,” he claimed. “If the people from religious minorities have any reservations, they can bring the issues to the floor of the house.”

The Prime minister also urged people protesting against the amendments to now “stop their protests as the government has made it clear that there will be no change in the Pakistan Penal Code Section 295 B & C.”

Most recently, the blasphemy law was used against Asia Bibi, a 45-year-old Christian mother-of-five, who was found guilty of the alleged crime and sentenced to death by hanging. This case is currently on appeal by Bibi.

The PM also said that the bill tabled by Ms. Sherry Rehman, a member of parliament who belongs to belongs to ruling party [the Pakistan People’s Party or PPM] did not represent their party’s views she had been directed to withdraw the bill of proposed amendments in Blasphemy Laws.

Sherry Rehman

The UK-based Guardian newspaper (www.guardian.co.uk) reported that that Sherry Rehman, who has been “spearheading reform of the country’s controversial blasphemy laws,” had abandoned her struggle, accusing her own party of caving in to extremists.

Ms. Rehman, who is largely confined to her home following a flurry of death threats, denied government claims that she had voluntarily withdrawn a bill proposing changes to the law.

“There was no question of my withdrawing the bill as the speaker [of parliament] never admitted it on the agenda,” she said, adding that the “appeasement of extremists will have a blow-back effect.”

The Guardian story written, by Declan Walsh in Islamabad, went on to say that, “Reformers stress they do not wish to scrap the blasphemy law – a political impossibility in the current climate — but merely seek reforms to make abuse more difficult.”

Rehman, a former information minister was then quoted as saying, “The procedural amendments I sought would have given relief to innocent people, that’s all. Instead it has become the object of a power play between parties.”

Walsh then quoted Nasim Zehra, a television presenter who has hosted several debates on the issue, as saying that the ruling PPP “politically blundered the issue.”

Zehra added, “Nearly everyone agrees that misuse of the law has to end. But the PPP have ended up distancing themselves from the one person who brought in a solution.”

ANS has observed that the decision not amend the law by the ruling party is the result of extreme pressure of the Islamic and mainstream parties over the past few weeks throughout the country.

In view of this decision, Johnson Gill, a youth leader said, “The religious minorities now feel insecure in Pakistan.”

Rasheed Jalal, a Christian political leader, said, “The present government is weak and failed to control price hikes, power outages and terrorism. Lack of service delivery to the poor masses and corruption has made the government infamous and is so the weak that it cannot take strong steps.”


Ashfaq Fateh, 38, studied civic and human rights, at Pakistan’s leading University, the Aga Khan University in Karachi. He has been working to promote peace, human rights and particularly for Christian’s rights. He has also been working against the discriminatory laws prevailing in Pakistan. His wife, Rafia Salomi, is serving as deputy director for Society for Human Development, popularly known as Human Development Center, an icon of Christian’s rights in Pakistan since 1984.


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