Blasphemy law change ignites fury in Pakistan

Apparently the ruling Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) has sparked fury when they put forward a private member’s bill seeking to abolish the death penalty for blasphemy. Sunni Muslim clerics have organised a 24-hour strike to take place across Pakistan to protest against any changes to blasphemy laws. Reports say that rallies were staged in Islamabad, Lahore, Karachi, Peshawar and Quetta after Friday prayers.
 
Human rights groups have long said the law is often used to persecute religious minorities. This law carries a mandatory death sentence for anyone who insults Islam. The government may have distanced itself from a bill to soften the law but the word in the street seems to be they have the intention to change it and this is not being well received by religious leaders and their followers.
 
AFP has reported that protesters near the home of unpopular President Asif Ali Zardari in the financial hub of Karachi pelted stones as they shouted slogans including "We’ll sacrifice our lives — we’ll save the sanctity of the Prophet". The police were called in and teargas shells were fired to disperse them.
 
A death sentence handed to a Christian woman found guilty of supposedly defaming the Prophet Mohammed has provoked international condemnation. Even Pope Benedict XVI weighed into the fray by calling for the release of Asia Bibi, who is now in jail pending an appeal.
 
As reported in Oye! Times back on November 25, 2010, Asia Bibi, a 45 year old mother of five, a Christian, was arrested for blasphemy. She has been in prison now for one and a half years and on November 8, 2010, a court sentenced her to hang after convicting her of insulting the Prophet Muhammad. According to the story, she and some women of her village got into something of a dispute in June 2009 when they refused to drink water she collected and she refused their demands that she convert to Islam. The women reported her to a cleric who then concluded Bibi had committed blasphemy and she was arrested.
 
This law on blasphemy is apparently very open ended with little or no requirement to furnish proof to condemn anybody. Accusers can do as little as gather a group of supporters to have anybody arrested on the charge of defaming the Prophet. This is where human rights groups have concluded that abuses are taking place: non Muslims, political enemies, even women are being singled out to be persecuted using this strange law.

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