01/10/2011, 00.00
PAKISTAN

In Karachi, 50,000 rally behind blasphemy law

Jibran Khan
Fundamentalist leaders organise rally and praise Salman Taseer’s murderer as a “hero of Islam”. The Pope appeals to the Pakistani government to repeal the law because it is a “pretext” for violence and injustice. Pakistani Christians pray for the governor of Punjab, a “martyr” according to Saudi newspaper Arab News.

Lahore (AsiaNews) – Shouting anti-government slogans, thousands of people on Sunday marched in Pakistan's financial capital to oppose any amendments to the controversial blasphemy law. Radical Muslim leaders who led the rally praised Mumtaz Hussain Qadri, the man charged with killing Punjab governor Salman Taseer, as a hero of Islam. In Islamabad and Lahore, hundreds of Christians took part in Sunday Mass, paying tribute to the slain governor. Benedict XVI today also referred to the blasphemy law in a speech to the diplomatic corps accredited to the Vatican. In it, he said that the law violates the “right to religious freedom” and urged the Pakistani government to take the necessary steps to repeal it. Saudi newspaper Arab News published a long editorial article on the assassination of the Punjab governor, whose fight against violence and fanaticism “turned him into a martyr”.

Yesterday, 50,000 people invaded downtown Karachi to hail Mumtaz Hussain Qadri, the murderer of Salman Taseer, the governor targeted by fundamentalists because he had dubbed the blasphemy law as a “black law”. Organised by Islamic extremist groups, the rally saw the participation of outlawed Jamaat-ud-Dawah chief Hafiz Saeed. Wearing green headbands and holding flags with Qur‘anic verses inscribed on them, hundreds of young people, some of them wielding sticks, shouted slogans against the Pakistani government and the United States.

Fazlur Rehman, head of the pro-Taliban Jamiat Ulema Islam and speaker at Sunday's demonstration, said that Taseer "was responsible for his own murder" because he had criticised the law.

Other speakers told the crowd that the law “is divine” and that “nobody can change it." They also called for a “long march to Islamabad” and other demonstrations “across the country.”

Benedict XVI spoke today about the blasphemy law in his address to the ambassadors accredited to the Holy See. The Pope said that “particular mention must be made of the law against blasphemy in Pakistan” because it violates religious freedom. He urged government authorities in Pakistan “to take the necessary steps to abrogate that law [. . .] because it is clear that it serves as a pretext for acts of injustice and violence against religious minorities. The tragic murder of the governor of Punjab shows the urgent need to make progress in this direction”.

Christians gathered yesterday across the country for Sunday Mass to remember Salman Taseer. In Islamabad, they gathered at Our Lady of Fatima Church. "We are here to pray for him because he was murdered because of our cause, and because he was campaigning for justice for Christians in Pakistan and peace for the world," Father Anwar Patras Gill said.

In Lahore, prayers were said for the governor. “We dedicate this day to him," Fr Daniel Habib said in the cathedral ahead of Mass before a gathering of 250 worshippers.

In the meantime, the authorities have increased security around the residence of Sherry Rehman, in Karachi, fearing possible attacks. A former Information minister and a member of the ruling Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), she is among the promoters of changes to the blasphemy law.

“They can't silence me,” she told AsiaNews, and “They can't decide what we think or speak, these are man-made laws."

The assassination of the governor of Punjab has been front-page news around the world. Saudi newspaper Arab News published a lengthy editorial on the matter. In it, the newspaper praised the courage of Salman Taseer whose bitter opposition to “extremism and violence cost him his life” and “turned him into a martyr”.

The paper called his killer “a heartless, grinning murderer and an ignorant instrument of evil”, ending its editorial with an appeal to the country’s leaders to stand up and rally against the deviant forces that threatened to bring darkness to Pakistan and Islam.

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