02/03/2011, 00.00
PAKISTAN
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Blasphemy law: Rehman withdraws proposed changes, as teacher denounces 17-year-old boy

With her life threatened by Muslim fundamentalists, the PPP Member of the National Assembly accepts to toe the party line and accept the government’s view. Prime Minister Gilani confirms that changes will not be introduced. A student is arrested in Karachi for blasphemy after he is accused of insulting the name of Muhammad in an exam. Human Rights Watch calls the decision “truly appalling”.

Lahore (AsiaNews) – Sherry Rehman, a member of the National Assembly for the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), has agreed to follow the party line and withdraw her bill to amend the controversial blasphemy law. Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani made the announcement at a meeting with a group lawmakers in Islamabad. He said he had spoken to Rehman and that she had agreed to withdraw her proposed bill to amend the ‘black law’. In the meantime, a 17-year-old student was jailed on blasphemy charges after an invigilator reported on him for insulting the name of the Prophet Muhammad in an exam paper.

Ms Rehman, who has been threatened by Muslim fundamentalists for proposing changes to the controversial law, has decided to accept her party’s line after Prime Minister Gilani said the government had closed the door to any changes to the law.

Last year, she had proposed eliminating the death penalty from Section 295-C of the Pakistan Penal Code, which covers blasphemy, enraging fundamentalists who then issued a fatwa against her.

Sherry Rehman had explained that changes were designed to “prevent abuses” in the application of the law. In a public statement, she had talked about “simple” changes to guarantee that people were “given a chance to prove their innocence” and to ensure that no one could “makes false charges in the name of the Holy Prophet”.

Meanwhile, the infamous ‘black law’ continues to be abused. Pakistani police arrested a 17-year-old student in Karachi last Friday. He is accused of blaspheming against Islam in a paper he wrote during a high school final exam. Muhammad Samiullah, who has been in jail since his arrest, was denounced by one of the invigilators in charge of supervising the exam.

Human rights groups and civil society associations responded immediately calling for the repeal of the blasphemy law. Human Rights Watch (HRW) appealed to the Pakistani government to let the boy go.

“Pakistan has set the standard for intolerance when it comes to misusing blasphemy laws, but sending a schoolboy to jail for something he scribbled on an exam paper is truly appalling," said Bede Sheppard, senior children's rights researcher at Human Rights Watch.

Mgr Lawrence Saldhana, archbishop of Lahore and president of the Bishops’ Conference of Pakistan, spoke out against the growing Islamisation of the country and the ever-tighter bond between state and religion. He said he was saddened by the attacks against the Pope and the burning of the pictures of Benedict XVI and Minority Affairs Minister Shahbaz Bhatti. Dissociating himself from any violent action, he extended his “solidarity and gratitude” to the Catholic minister, but did not mention the blasphemy law or any changes to it. (JK)

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