Pakistan on Strike Against Bill to Amend Blasphemy Law
A strike by Muslims is taking place across Pakistan to stop any attempt at amending the country’s blasphemy law. The law calls for death penalty for blaspheming against the Islamic prophet Muhammad.The law has resulted in the killing of several Christians and other religious minorities in Pakistan.
12/31/2010 Pakistan (BBC News)-A 24-hour strike organised by Sunni Muslim clerics is taking place across Pakistan to protest against possible changes to blasphemy laws.
Rallies were staged in Islamabad, Lahore, Karachi, Peshawar and Quetta after Friday prayers.
The government has distanced itself from a bill to change the law, which carries a mandatory death sentence for anyone who insults Islam.
Rights groups say the law is often used to persecute religious minorities.
The legislation returned to the spotlight in November when a Pakistani Christian woman, Asia Bibi, was sentenced to death.
Although no-one convicted under the law has been executed, more than 30 accused have been killed by lynch mobs.
‘Over our dead bodies’
The Pope has led international calls to show mercy on Ms Bibi, who denies insulting the Prophet Muhammad during an argument with other farmhands in a Punjab province village in June 2009.
Friday’s strike saw businesses shuttered and transport workers walking out in towns and cities across the country.
One Sunni cleric in Islamabad warned in his Friday sermon that any change to the blasphemy law would happen “over our dead bodies”.
The strike was held to protest against a private member’s bill submitted to parliament.
It seeks to amend the law by abolishing the death sentence and by strengthening clauses which prevent any chance of a miscarriage of justice.
The bill has been drafted by a member of the ruling Pakistan People’s Party and by a former Information Minister, Sherry Rehman.
This led religious groups, who are demanding that Ms Rehman quit, to conclude the government was behind it.
On Wednesday, Pakistan’s religious affairs minister told parliament the bill did not reflect government policy.
“I state with full responsibility that the government has no intention to repeal the blasphemy law,” Syed Khurshid Shah said.
Pakistani Christians rally for Asia Bibi in Lahore on Christmas Day Pakistani Christians rallied for Asia Bibi in Lahore on Christmas Day
The Jamiat-i-Ulema Islam party, a smaller coalition partner, withdrew from the government earlier in December after one of its ministers was sacked.