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
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
Young Winstone: His ‘tough-guy’ image is a misconception
people
Sport
Adnan Januzaj and Gareth Bale
footballManchester United set to loan out Januzaj to make room for Bale - if a move for the Welshman firms up
Arts and Entertainment
Ellie Levenson’s The Election book demystifies politics for children
bookNew children's book primes the next generation for politics
News
Outspoken: Alexander Fury, John Rentoul, Ellen E Jones and Katy Guest
newsFrom the Scottish referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
News
i100
Sport
Yaya Sanogo, Mats Hummels, Troy Deeney and Adnan Januzaj
footballMost Premier League sides are after a striker, but here's a full run down of the ins and outs that could happen over the next month
News
Nigel Farage celebrates with a pint after early local election results in the Hoy and Helmet pub in South Benfleet in Essex
peopleHe has shaped British politics 'for good or ill'
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams' “Happy” was the most searched-for song lyric of 2014
musicThe power of song never greater, according to our internet searches
Sport
Tim Sherwood raises his hand after the 1-0 victory over Stoke
footballFormer Tottenham boss leads list of candidates to replace Neil Warnock
Voices
Strictly Come Dancing was watched by 6.9m viewers
voicesIt has been hard to form generally accepted cultural standards since the middle of the 19th century – and the disintegration is only going to accelerate, says DJ Taylor
Arts and Entertainment
Roffey says: 'All of us carry shame and taboo around about our sexuality. But I was determined not to let shame stop me writing my memoir.'
books
News
Danielle George is both science professor and presenter
people
News
i100
News
Caplan says of Jacobs: 'She is a very collaborative director, and gives actors a lot of freedom. She makes things happen.'
people
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

Selby Jennings: VP/SVP Credit Quant- NY- Investment Bank

Not specified: Selby Jennings: VP/SVP Credit Quant Top tier investment bank i...

Ashdown Group: Senior Marketing Executive- City of London, Old Street

£40000 - £43000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Senior Marketing Executiv...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager

£40000 - £43000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: An international organisa...

Ashdown Group: Internal Recruiter -Rugby, Warwickshire

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Internal Recruiter -Rugby, Warwicksh...

Day In a Page

War with Isis: The West needs more than a White Knight

The West needs more than a White Knight

Despite billions spent on weapons, the US has not been able to counter Isis's gruesome tactics, says Patrick Cockburn
Return to Helmand: Private Davey Graham recalls the day he was shot by the Taliban

'The day I was shot by the Taliban'

Private Davey Graham was shot five times during an ambush in 2007 - it was the first, controversial photograph to show the dangers our soldiers faced in Helmand province
Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Many flyers are failing to claim compensation to which they are entitled, a new survey has found
The stories that defined 2014: From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions

The stories that defined 2014

From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions
Stoke-on-Trent becomes first British city to be classified as 'disaster resilient' by the United Nations

Disaster looming? Now you know where to head...

Which British city has become the first to be awarded special 'resilience' status by the UN?
Finally, a diet that works: Californian pastor's wildly popular Daniel Plan has seen his congregation greatly reduced

Finally, a diet that works

Californian pastor's wildly popular Daniel Plan has seen his congregation greatly reduced
Say it with... lyrics: The power of song was never greater, according to our internet searches

Say it with... lyrics

The power of song was never greater, according to our internet searches
Professor Danielle George: On a mission to bring back the art of 'thinkering'

The joys of 'thinkering'

Professor Danielle George on why we have to nurture tomorrow's scientists today
Monique Roffey: The author on father figures, the nation's narcissism and New Year reflections

Monique Roffey interview

The author on father figures, the nation's narcissism and New Year reflections
Introducing my anti-heroes of 2014

Introducing my anti-heroes of 2014

Their outrageousness and originality makes the world a bit more interesting, says Ellen E Jones
DJ Taylor: Good taste? It's all a matter of timing...

Good taste? It's all a matter of timing...

It has been hard to form generally accepted cultural standards since the middle of the 19th century – and the disintegration is only going to accelerate, says DJ Taylor
Olivia Jacobs & Ben Caplan: 'Ben thought the play was called 'Christian Love'. It was 'Christie in Love' - about a necrophiliac serial killer'

How we met

Olivia Jacobs and Ben Caplan
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's breakfasts will revitalise you in time for the New Year

Bill Granger's healthy breakfasts

Our chef's healthy recipes are perfect if you've overindulged during the festive season
Transfer guide: From Arsenal to West Ham - what does your club need in the January transfer window?

Who does your club need in the transfer window?

Most Premier League sides are after a striker, but here's a full run down of the ins and outs that could happen over the next month
The Last Word: From aliens at FA to yak’s milk in the Tour, here’s to 2015

Michael Calvin's Last Word

From aliens at FA to yak’s milk in the Tour, here’s to 2015