Rehman insists Pak blasphemy law needs to be amended

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Rezaul H Laskar

Islamabad, Feb 3 (PTI) Despite the killing of outspokenPunjab Governor Salmaan Taseer on the same issue, seniorPakistan People''s Party leader Sherry Rehman is still stickingto her stand that the controversial blasphemy law should beamended.

Rehman, who has received death threats from extremistgroups, contested Premier Yousuf Raza Gilani''s remarks thatshe had agreed to withdraw her bill from the National Assemblyto change the blasphemy law under which a person can be givendeath penalty.

Gilani, during a meeting with a delegation ofparliamentarians yesterday, announced that Rehman, also formerinformation minister, had "agreed to withdraw her bill" inkeeping with the PPP''s policy.

In a statement issued subsequently, Rehman clarified:"There was never any question of withdrawing the bill as theSpeaker had 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 said.

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.

Gilani, earlier at the meeting, made it clear that hisgovernment "has no intention to amend the law." He also askedreligious parties to help authorities in framing policies tocheck the law''s misuse.

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 misuse of the blasphemy law.

At about the same time, Rehman had submitted a privatemember''s bill in National Assembly or Parliament''s lower houseto amend the law by removing the mandatory death sentence.

Rehman, whose relations with top PPP leadership are strained,did not receive much support for the move from the party.

After Punjab Governor Taseer was assassinated by a policeguard last month for opposing the law, Rehman was even advisedby friends and supporters to leave Pakistan.

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