PPP leader Rehman withdraws bill to amend blasphemy law

Rezaul H Laskar

Islamabad, Feb 4 (PTI) Facing death threats fromextremist elements, senior Pakistan People''s Party leaderSherry Rehman has withdrawn from Parliament a bill aimed atamending the controversial blasphemy law through eliminationof the mandatory capital punishment under it.

Rehman has withdrawn the private member''s bill, which shehad submitted in the National Assembly or Parliament''s lowerhouse for amending the blasphemy law last year.

Her decision came after Premier Yousuf Raza Gilani madeit clear that his government has no plans to amend the law.

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

Rehman said she would abide by decisions made by thePrime Minister and the PPP on the issue.

In a statement, she said that "had it (the bill) appearedon the (Parliament''s) agenda, perhaps some of our colleagueswould have understood that it was not suggesting repeal of thelaw, but protecting our Holy Prophet''s name against injusticesdone via procedures introduced by (late military dictator)Zia-ul-Haq."

"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... goes unpunished."

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, who has received deaththreats from extremist groups, had submitted the privatemember''s bill in National Assembly to amend the law byremoving the mandatory death sentence.

Rehman, whose relations with top PPP leadership arestrained, did not receive much support for the move from theparty.

After outspoken Punjab Governor Salmaan Taseer wasassassinated by his police guard last month for opposing theblasphemy law, Rehman was even advised by friends andsupporters to leave Pakistan.

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