TNR rally warns govt not to touch blasphemy law

The Tehreek-e-Namoos-e-Risalat (TNR) and the All-Religious Parties Alliance held a massive rally on Sunday, demanding the government not touch the country’s blasphemy law, abolish the committee set up to review the law and withdraw the proposed blasphemy bill from the National Assembly. Hundreds of thousands of people participated in the march from the Numaish Chowrangi to Tibat Centre. They raised placards and banners voicing their demands. The size of the Karachi rally, which was large even by the standards of the city of 16 million, showed how bitter the argument is over the decades-old laws. Tehreek-e-Namoos-e-Risalat convener and the chief of the Jamiat Ulema-e-Pakistan (JUP), Dr Abul Khair Muhammad Zubair, said it was a matter of regret that the present government had tabled a bill to amend the blasphemy law.

Dr Abul Khair gave a deadline of January 30 to the government to dissolve the committee that was formed to review blasphemy law. “Otherwise the next Tahafuz-e-Namoos Rislat March will be organised in Lahore on January 30,” he said. Jamaat-e-Islami chief Munawar Hassan said the rulers intended to amend the blasphemy law at the direction of their Western idols. He said that he offers Altaf Hussain and Nawaz Sharif to come forward and take a stand in favour of the blasphemy law, as it was a matter of belief and religion for each Muslim. “They should come forward to make a statement on record in this regard, avoiding all minor or major differences,” he said. Munawar demanded that Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani withdraw the bill, which was tabled “for the nefarious propose of amending the blasphemy law and the PM should give a policy statement on the floor of the assembly in this regard”.

Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-Fazl Fazlur Rehman said the nation would not allow any one to amend or remove the blasphemy law. He vowed that the “Western agenda” would not be allowed in Pakistan, which “had come into being in the name of Allah and the holy Prophet (PBUH)”. He alleged that the government was expressing extremism in its struggle against the blasphemy law. JI Karachi chief Muhammad Hussain Mehnti, JUI-F leader Maulana Abdul Ghafoor Haidri, JUP member Shabir Abu Talib, PML-Q leader Muhammed Zubair Khan and Owais Pasha of the Tanzeem Islami also spoke on the occasion. The blasphemy law has been the subject of much attention after a Christian woman, Aasia Bibi, was sentenced to death last year. Although courts typically overturn blasphemy convictions and no executions have been carried out, rights activists say the laws are used to settle rivalries and persecute religious minorities. While the Islamists do not win many seats in elections, they have the capacity to bring people out into the streets. The rally followed a tumultuous week in Pakistani politics in which the Pakistan People’s Party government backtracked on reforms to stave off collapse.

On Sunday, Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani accepted demands from former prime minister Nawaz Sharif in a bid to further defuse Pakistan’s political crisis. Nawaz had called for the government to reverse fuel price increases, cut government spending by 30 percent, fire “corrupt” officials and form an independent election commission and accountability body. Gilani and Zardari faced the expulsion of PPP members from the Punjab government if they failed to accept Nawaz’s demands. Being expelled from the government of the largest province would have further hobbled the PPP-led coalition federal government. On Friday, the PPP lured a coalition partner back to its parliamentary bloc by reversing a fuel price increase and deferring implementation of an unpopular sales tax. Both measures were among reforms demanded by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) as part of an $11 billion bailout agreement made in 2008. The government’s decision to rollback and defer the reforms prompted sharp criticism from the IMF and US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, although it is unlikely to endanger the release of approximately $3 billion remaining in the loan. – Dailytimes