Islamists fight efforts to save 'blasphemer'

Hundreds of Islamist hardliners took to the streets of Pakistan’s main cities yesterday in support of the country’s prejudicial blasphemy laws and against two leading politicians they have threatened for speaking out against the persecution of a Christian woman.

At rallies in Karachi, Lahore and other cities, the crowds of protestors warned the political class against any attempt to amend or repeal the laws. They also chanted slogans denouncing Salmaan Taseer, the governor of Punjab, and Sherry Rehman, a liberal parliamentarian.

Mr Taseer and Ms Rehman were singled out for speaking out against the treatment of Aasia Bibi, an illiterate 45-year-old farmhand who has been handed down a death sentence for allegedly insulting Islam and its prophet. Mr Taseer visited her in prison and called for her to be pardoned. Ms Rehman has submitted a bill in parliament, seeking to amend the blasphemy laws. Both politicians are from the ruling Pakistan People’s Party.

Human rights groups say that the blasphemy laws are an abusive instrument invoked to punish Pakistan’s most vulnerable. They have overwhelmingly been used to settle political vendattas or afford Islamist extremists protection when they have targeted religious minorities.

At a conference of major religious groups this week, which even included some mainstream politicians, Ms Rehman was threatened, that if she did not withdraw the bill she has submitted to parliament, “she would be besieged by the people of Pakistan”. Ms Rehman’s seeks to offer protection to minority groups, particularly the removal of the death sentence.

Mr Taseer, the outspoken governor of Punjab, was condemned by the same groups for “extending unnecessary support” to Aasia Bibi, the accused Christian woman. Last week, the Almi Jamaat Ahle Sunnat, another fundamentalist group, declared Mr Taseer an “apostate” for calling for Aasia Bibi’s release and “implementing the western conspiracy against the blasphemy laws”. For fundamentalists, the charge of apostasy is punishable by death.

“The threats against Salmaan Taseer and Sherry Rehman are both unacceptable and appalling,” said Ali Dayan Hasan of Human Rights Watch. “It is a measure of the state’s impotence in the face of extremist groups that such high-profile public figures, merely standing up for fundamental rights, can be threatened with such impunity.”

Ms Rehman, a former information minister, says that she remains resolute in her stand and won’t be cowed by the threats. “I really can’t be coerced into silencing myself like this,” she told The Independent. “It’s my freedom as a legislator to do as I do. If they want to talk, there’s no issue. But to use coercion is unacceptable.”

Mr Taseer responded with characteristic insouciance. “It doesn’t bother me,” he said. “Who the hell are these illiterare maulvis to decide to whether i’m a Muslim or not?” Earlier, he tweeted: “Tomorrow mullahs r demonstrating against me...Thousands of beards screaming 4 my head.What a great feeling!”

The Aasia Bibi case led to the eruption of fierce divisions in the media, clergy, and the government. Notably, while a number of notable religious scholars have bravely spoken out against the blasphemy laws, Babar Awan, the PPP’s Law Minister, has said he will not allow it to be amended or repealed.

Even if Aasia Bibi’s conviction is overturned by the higher courts, or if she is pardoned by President Asif Ali Zardari, her life may remain imperiled. “She will probably not be able to live in her community for some time,” said Ms Rehman. “She will have to be moved, or will continue to face threats.”

Suggested Topics
News
people Emma Watson addresses celebrity nude photo leak
News
Katie Hopkins appearing on 'This Morning' after she purposefully put on 4 stone.
peopleKatie Hopkins breaks down in tears over weight gain challenge
News
Boris Johnson may be manoeuvring to succeed David Cameron
i100
News
peopleHis band Survivor was due to resume touring this month
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
News
people'It can last and it's terrifying'
News
In this photo illustration a school student eats a hamburger as part of his lunch which was brought from a fast food shop near his school, on October 5, 2005 in London, England. The British government has announced plans to remove junk food from school lunches. From September 2006, food that is high in fat, sugar or salt will be banned from meals and removed from vending machines in schools across England. The move comes in response to a campaign by celebrity TV chef Jamie Oliver to improve school meals.
science
Arts and Entertainment
tv
Life and Style
fashionModel of the moment shoots for first time with catwalk veteran
Life and Style
fashionPart of 'best-selling' Demeter scent range
News
i100
Sport
Tom Cleverley
footballLoan move comes 17 hours after close of transfer window
Sport
Alexis Sanchez, Radamel Falcao, Diego Costa and Mario Balotelli
footballRadamel Falcao and Diego Costa head record £835m influx
Life and Style
fashionAngelina Jolie's wedding dressed revealed
News
i100
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Deputy Education Manager

Negotiable: Randstad Education Sheffield: Deputy Education Manager (permanent ...

Science Teacher Urgently required for October start

£6720 - £33600 per annum: Randstad Education Nottingham: We are currently recr...

ICT Teacher

£120 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Group: We are looking for an outstandi...

Art & Design Teacher

£120 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Group: We are looking for an outstandi...

Day In a Page

'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes': US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food served at diplomatic dinners

'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes'

US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food
Radio Times female powerlist: A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

Inside the Radio Times female powerlist
Endgame: James Frey's literary treasure hunt

James Frey's literary treasure hunt

Riddling trilogy could net you $3m
Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

What David Sedaris learnt about the world from his fitness tracker
Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

Second-holiest site in Islam attracts millions of pilgrims each year
Alexander Fury: The designer names to look for at fashion week this season

The big names to look for this fashion week

This week, designers begin to show their spring 2015 collections in New York
Will Self: 'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

Will Self takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Toy guns proving a popular diversion in a country flooded with the real thing
Al Pacino wows Venice

Al Pacino wows Venice

Ham among the brilliance as actor premieres two films at festival
Neil Lawson Baker interview: ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.

Neil Lawson Baker interview

‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.
The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

The model for a gadget launch

Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

Get well soon, Joan Rivers

She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

A fresh take on an old foe

Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering