Blasphemy law protests in Pakistan

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The Independent Online

Businesses shut down and buses stayed off the streets in many parts of Pakistan yesterday as thousands rallied against changing the country's controversial laws against blasphemy.

In one major city, police used tear gas to disperse demonstrators who pelted them with stones.

Pakistan's long-standing law against blasphemy gained new attention in November when a Christian woman, Asia Bibi, was sentenced to death for allegedly insulting Islam's Prophet Mohamed.

She is believed to be the first woman condemned to die under the statute, and her plight has caused outrage among human rights activists and Christian organisations who say the blasphemy laws are too often abused.

Islamist groups called for the strikes and rallies yesterday despite assurances by the embattled ruling Pakistan People's Party that it would not pursue any changes to the law.

Except in the big cities, Pakistanis often observe Friday – an important day of worship – as a day off instead of the official Sunday. Religious groups often take advantage of that by calling for strikes on Friday.