Lahore (AsiaNews) – Islamic religious leaders have attacked the government's plan to neutralise the much criticised blasphemy laws, and expressed strong support for the release of Mumtaz Qadri, the bodyguard who murdered Punjab Governor Salman Taseer.
An emotionally charged ‘Seminar for protection of Prophet’s dignity’ was held last Saturday at Lahore Press Club. Ten ulemas expressed their reservation against a draft bill that aims to add the word “intention” to the law.
Human rights groups as well as Church leaders have repeatedly stated that 295C is used in extrajudicial killings and the burning of Christian settlements.
If approved by the Law Ministry, the new legislation would be reviewed by a committee before going to parliament. According to seminar speakers, 14 people accused of blasphemy have been hanged so far, whilst 19 more are serving life imprisonment.
The speakers included retired Justice Mian Nazir Akhtar, counsel to Mumtaz Qadri, who is jailed for killing Punjab governor Salman Taseer because he referred to the country's blasphemy law as “black law” in a television show.
Taseer, a Muslim, had gained popularity among Pakistan’s Christian minority for trying to help Asia Bibi, a Christian woman sentenced to death for allegedly defiling the name of the Prophet Muhammad.
The judge who sentenced Mumtaz Qadri to death left for Saudi Arabia along with his family after receiving death threats from extremists.
“This single act [Taseer’s murder] made Qadri immortal,” said Mian Nazir Akhtar to the ovation of those present. “Taseer’s authority could not save him. He had lowered himself and violated his oath for a woman who was proven guilty by the court and then punished. He carried a western agenda (for abolishing the blasphemy law) for more than three years and was finally sent to hell.”
“The new bill rejects all sayings by the Holy Prophet. When it comes to the sanctity of the Prophet, the implementation of all manmade laws become different. Those who insult Him have no rights, including no right to live. There is no need for trial or hearings,” added the former judge.
Other speakers also warned government leaders against tampering with the blasphemy law. Quoting Islamic references in favour of the death sentence, they threatened sit-ins, protest rallies and fatwas against supporters of the proposed bill.
“Youths will be sacrificed, ghazi (reference to Qadri) will be saved” and “Allah o Akbar,” chanted the bearded attendants.
Saeeda Deep, of the Institute of Peace and Secular Studies, has campaigned for changes to blasphemy law a few years ago.
“We tried to prove blasphemy by producing four Muslim witnesses, but our voices are being suppressed. Even Saudi Arabia, our religious hub, does not follow such strict version of this law”, she told AsiaNews.
“If the clerics believe in killing in the name of God, they must accept death sentence of governor’s guard for the same cause”.