Pak''s PPP ''divided'' on amending blasphemy law

Rezaul H Laskar

Islamabad, Feb 3 (PTI) Pakistan''s ruling PPP appearsdivided on the issue of amending the blasphemy law, with itssenior leader Sherry Rehman contesting Premier Yousuf RazaGilani''s remarks that she had agreed to withdraw a bill tochange the controversial statute.

During a meeting with a delegation of parliamentariansyesterday, Gilani announced that former information ministerRehman -- who has received death threats from extremist groups-- had "agreed to withdraw her bill" in keeping with thePPP''s policy.

He made it clear that his government "has no intention toamend the law."

He also asked religious parties to help authorities inframing policies to check the law''s misuse.

In a statement issued subsequently, Rehman said: "Therewas never any question of withdrawing the bill as the Speakerhad never admitted it on the agenda."

"Had it appeared on the agenda, perhaps some of ourcolleagues would have understood that it was not suggestingrepeal of the law, but protecting our Holy Prophet''s nameagainst injustices done via procedures introduced by (latemilitary dictator) Zia-ul-Haq," she said.

No Muslim "would expect not to protect the Holy Prophet''sname, and no Pakistani would ever suggest anything other thanthat," she added.

Rehman said the changes she had suggested in theblasphemy law "were simple: that people be given a chance toprove their innocence like in all laws, and that cases betried at the higher courts, that penalties be given accordingto the Quran, and that no one who makes false charges in thename of the Holy Prophet... go unpunished."

She said that though she had not been taken intoconfidence by the party, she would abide by decisions made bythe Prime Minister and the PPP.

After a court in Punjab sentenced a Christian woman todeath last year for allegedly insulting the Prophet Mohammed,President Asif Ali Zardari asked Minority Affairs MinisterShahbaz Bhatti to head a committee of religious scholars andclerics to find ways to prevent the misuse of the blasphemylaw.

At about the same time, Rehman had submitted a privatemember''s bill in the National Assembly or lower house ofParliament to amend the law by removing the mandatory deathsentence.

Rehman, whose relations with the PPP''s top leadership arestrained, did not receive much support for the move from theparty. (More) PTI RHL KIM AKJ

After religious hardliners stepped up pressure on the government not to repeal or amend the blasphemy law, PrimeMinister Gilani has repeatedly said in the past few days thatthere are no plans to change the statute.

Gilani also said that neither he nor the NationalAssembly''s Speaker has formed any committee to consider theamendment of the law.

Rehman has also received death threats for calling forchanges in the blasphemy law.

After Punjab Governor Salmaan Taseer was assassinated bya police guard for opposing the law, Rehman was even advisedby friends and supporters to leave Pakistan.

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