Asia Bibi still in prison. Government u-turn on law against blasphemy
Lahore (AsiaNews) - Asia Bibi is still waiting in jail for the High Court in Lahore to decide the date for her appeal against the death sentence for blasphemy passed in November 2010. In the midst of an imminent governmental crisis Islamic religious parties are stepping up pressure against the government to prevent any change to the controversial blasphemy law. In an attempt to ease the pressure, the government announced in no uncertain terms that it does not plan to eliminate or amend the blasphemy law. In a statement before the National Assembly on 1 January, the Minister for Religious Affairs Khursheed Shah said the government is not responsible for the proposal put to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Pakistan People Party (PPP) to change the law. The Parliamentarian Rheman Sherry submitted the proposed amendment to Parliament. "The government has no plans to remove the blasphemy laws ... to ensure respect of the Holy Prophet is part of our faith," said Kursheed Shah.
The minister assured the minorities that the government will take the necessary steps to ensure that the law is not misused against them. Protests by Islamic parties began when President Asif Ali Zardari announced his intention to pardon Asia Bibi, a Christian sentenced to death on false charges. The government had previously indicated their willingness to amend the law, and had formed a committee for this purpose, headed by Minister for Minorities Shabahz Bhatti.
A national strike to protest against the proposed amendment to the Act took place December 31, 2010 organized by radical Islamic parties. The protesters tried to reach the residence of President Zardari in Karachi, throwing stones and had to be charged by riot police with tear gas. They shouted slogans against Asia Bibi and MP Rheman Sherry, and in defense of Muhammad: "We sacrifice our lives, we will save the sanctity of the prophet." Dr. Nazir Bhatti, President of Pakistan Christian Congress, harshly criticized the slogans chanted by the radicals, and even the silence of Christians MPs during the declaration of the Minister for Religious Affairs. "It 's a shame that they did not have the courage to walk away, but listened in silence to the minister’s repudiation," he said.
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