Blasphemy law amendment: Sherry Rehman to withdraw bill, says PM

Published: February 3, 2011

Sherry Rehman says she was not consulted, but will abide by PM's and her party's position.

ISLAMABAD: The prime minister stated that Sherry Rehman, a member of the National Assembly from the ruling Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), has agreed to withdraw her bill seeking to amend the controversial blasphemy law.

Speaking to a group of parliamentarians in Islamabad, Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani said that he had spoken to Rehman and that she had agreed to withdraw her proposed bill. Rehman, however, disputed the prime minister’s statement and said that she was not consulted on the matter. In a statement released to the press, she said that even though she had not been taken into confidence, she would abide by the prime minister and her party’s position, which would preclude any discussion of procedural amendments to the blasphemy law.

Rehman submitted a bill to  the National Assembly last year seeking to eliminate the death penalty from Section 295(C) of the Pakistan Penal Code, which criminalises the act of insulting the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) and makes it punishable by life imprisonment or death. She never managed to gain the backing of the PPP, however, which continued to refer to it as the individual position of Ms Rehman and not the party.

Leaders from religious right-wing have been threatening the government with dire consequences if the proposed amendment is not withdrawn. An estimated 40,000 people rallied last week in Lahore against the bill despite the government’s repeated denials that it had any intention of amending the law.

Earlier in the day, Gilani reiterated his administration’s stance in the National Assembly that the government would not support any move to amend the law. He did, however, call for suggestions from religious groups on how to prevent misuse of the law. He was speaking to the house after Opposition Leader Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan sought an official word on both, the blasphemy law and the handling of an American’s case who killed two Pakistanis in Lahore last week.

Prime Minister Gilani also denied reports that his government formed a committee headed by the minority affairs minister to suggest changes to the blasphemy laws. The premier said only the president or the speaker of the National Assembly was empowered to create such a panel and neither have done so.

Sherry Rehman has reportedly been receiving death threats since she submitted the bill to Parliament. After Punjab Governor Salman Taseer was assassinated by one of his own guards for voicing his opposition to the blasphemy law, Rehman has been advised by friends and supporters to go into exile abroad. While she has thus far refused to leave the country, Rehman has kept a very low profile in the aftermath of the governor’s assassination.

In her statement to the press, Rehman sought to clarify her position without appearing to retreat from her earlier stance.

“There was never any question of withdrawing the bill as the Speaker had never admitted it on the agenda. Had it appeared on the agenda perhaps some of our colleagues would have understood that it was not suggesting repeal of the law, but protecting our Holy Prophet’s (pbuh) name against injustices done via procedures introduced by Ziaul Haq. No Muslim would expect not to protect the Holy Prophet’s (pbuh) name, and no Pakistani would ever suggest anything other than that. The changes I had submitted were simple: that people be given a chance to prove their innocence like in all laws, and that cases be tried at the Higher courts, that penalties be given according to the Quran, and that no one who makes false charges in the name of the Holy Prophet (pbuh) who swore always to defend the innocent and the vulnerable go unpunished.”

Published in The Express Tribune, February 3rd, 2011.

Reader Comments (33)

  • muhammad amjad
    Feb 3, 2011 - 8:53AM

    click on the following link for a touching tribute to salman taseer in benazir bhutto’s voice:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZK2PIAKlgnE

    it is a video of benazir bhutto’s recital of a poem with benazir bhutto’s & salman taseer’s video.Recommend

  • Sharjeel Jawaid
    Feb 3, 2011 - 9:06AM

    This is democracy!Recommend

  • Feb 3, 2011 - 9:22AM

    When Sherry Rehman herself says that she was not consulted, then it is absolutely clear , and the news should be read as ” Sherry Rehman is forced to withdraw Blasphemy Amendment Bill, says PM”.Sultan A Khan, USARecommend

  • Feb 3, 2011 - 9:57AM

    We must respect the law,
    and take action those who misusing it.

    In case,
    any one commit a crime comes under the blasphemy law,
    it must be properly investigated then convicted and sentenced.

    No need to amend or repeal,must be stand in existing form.

    Misuser,who want to unrest and trying to create tension must be
    reliable to setenceRecommend

  • Wow
    Feb 3, 2011 - 10:29AM

    Sherry that’s a wise step Now bring such a hard law against those who misuse blasphemy law and also blaspheme other religion so that no one is allowed to abuse or criticize any other religion Recommend

  • Hamaad Haider
    Feb 3, 2011 - 10:33AM

    The Blasphemy Laws are contrary to the teachings, principles and prescriptions of the Quran and the Prophet. We cannot allow uneducated sentiments to take over the teachings and prescriptions of a religion for that would amount to altering in accordance with our radicalized and extremist mindset – which Islam in Pakistan has already seen enough of.

    I challenge anyone reading this to disprove me and show me where in the Quran or the Prophet’s life it was/is a death sentence to insult the Prophet!?

    The biggest sin in Islam is apostasy or Shirk and the Quran does NOT prescribe death sentence for that! So who are we mere mortals to prescribe punishments contrary to and excessive to those in the Quran.

    If we spent more time following the Quran, and not perverting and altering its spirit in accordance with our ‘jahalat’ then we would not have the Taliban, the suicide bombings, people like Qadri, and people who support his murder – for all of them are against everything Islam is about. Recommend

  • Hamaad Haider
    Feb 3, 2011 - 10:37AM

    Sherry, your Prime Minister is too weak to take a stance on principles. He is not a man of that caliber. He is too worried about the political backlash and its resulting affect on his seat. You have taken a stand on principles time and again, don’t back down – not on this one. This one goes to the heart of illiterate application of Islam in Pakistan, it is what threatens the existence of this Country. This one is greater than PPP, or any party position. This one is about the country.Recommend

  • Ahmad Jehangiri
    Feb 3, 2011 - 10:39AM

    Blasphemy against the God should be more severely punished than blasphemy against prophets; however, there is no punishment for blasphemy against God is mentioned in the Holy Quran or in the Traditions of the Holy Prophet of Islam. Blasphemy against God is mentioned in the Holy Quran in the following words: ‘And abuse not those whom they call upon besides Allah, lest they, out of spite abuse Allah in their ignorance.’ (Ch. 6:109). Everybody knows that how much we respect gods (say of Hindus) or holy personalities of other religions.
    As for contemporary mullahs and so called religious scholars are concerned, Quran has also mentioned about them 1400 years ago that ‘They would deceive Allah and those who believe, but they deceive none but themselves; only they perceive not. In their heart was a disease, so Allah has increased their disease; and for them is a grievous punishment because they lied. And when it is said to them, Create not disorder in the earth, they say, we are only promoters of peace. Beware, it is surely who create disorder, but they do not perceive it.’ (Chapter 2: 10-13).
    I very humbly request mullahs (all three forms religious, political and Jehadi) to stop selling the religion and urge masses to stop buying their religion.Recommend

  • At Sharjeel
    Feb 3, 2011 - 11:19AM

    @ Sharjeel Jawair – you mean hypocrisy.Recommend

  • Aftab Kenneth Wilson
    Feb 3, 2011 - 11:28AM

    The government and all so called liberal parties are behaving like frightened squirrels then what can alone Sherry Rehman do???? It is better for her to raise her hands up or she will have to go underground like Minority Minister. Politics is being played on this issue with a new twist in the case of one American citizen. Media is only sprinkling petrol on both these issues rather than behaving like Intellectual Prostitutes.Recommend

  • At Sharjeel
    Feb 3, 2011 - 12:08PM

    @Ahmad Jehangiri:
    Excellent note. We can only hope people to the bear minimum – read the Quran before becoming a self-styled authority thereon.Recommend

  • Karim Khan
    Feb 3, 2011 - 12:23PM

    This is equal to murdering the brave Salman Taseer once again as well as strangling humanity. Now if that amount of pressure is exerted, and I think it will be, to get Qari released, will the government also let the killer go. The prime minister has disappointed the liberal segment of the nation as well as minorities by backing off the move to liberate the nation from a black law. Recommend

  • Feb 3, 2011 - 12:57PM

    Makes me think if democracy is the best fit of governance for our society? Where a bill cannot even be discussed and leads to a cold blooded murder of a sitting governer.Recommend

  • Feb 3, 2011 - 1:22PM

    @Hamaad Haider:
    you are talking about the QURAN.. yes, the Quran does not prescribe any such punishment but who in this country follows the QURAN?Recommend

  • feroze
    Feb 3, 2011 - 1:25PM

    Can some one tell me how many seats do the religious parties have in the assemblies? In a democracy the whole purpose of the assemblies is to debate changes in the law as was done with the 18th and 19th amendments. This bill never made it to the floor……….it was dropped due to the street power shown by the hooligans who dont even probably know what the proposed amendments were to a law modified by a dictator to suit his needs. Sad sad sad!!!Recommend

  • Shakir Lakhani
    Feb 3, 2011 - 1:27PM

    So why doesn’t she resign from the PPP? Is this how the P.M. treats a senior member of his own party?Recommend

  • Khalid Khan
    Feb 3, 2011 - 2:10PM

    Sherry run for your life. PM has abondoned you like he did with Taseer. Soon Molvies will be haunting you. They are the biggest predators in the arena.Recommend

  • MAD
    Feb 3, 2011 - 2:40PM

    So where are all the PPP supporters who thought that this Government was one that would hold out against the religious right. And before we start getting references to Zia ul Haq please note that the following measures were adopted when a PPP government was in power

    1. Declaring Ahmedis non-muslim

    2. Prohibiting alcohol

    3. Declaring Friday a weekly holiday instead of Sunday.

    why do we always blame Zia he just continued a trend already set by the liberal progressive PPP government that preceded him.Recommend

  • ArifQ
    Feb 3, 2011 - 2:41PM

    Fascism has prevailed, reason and fair justice are to take a back seat. Thankyou dear Prime Minister, keep pandering these fanatics and one day there will be no space left, then what will you do? offer human sacrifices to please the earthly gods. Recommend

  • Wowem
    Feb 3, 2011 - 5:36PM

    Such good, clean, basic advice by many respondents here..read, understand and live the Koran, but all of you dear friends, miss the point. Why bother? Why spend time, effort and bear the inevitable pain that comes with inner change, when we are all such perfect Muslims? Yes, the dumm darood variety, the milad moloud variety, the tasbeehwaala, the jinn exorciser Pir who partakes of his female prey, the countless repeater of Allah’s name as he steals, lies, and cheats one and all, the hadeeth quoter ad naseum, the long bearded one who smiles as he charges 132% interest to poor farmers in Southern Punjab….every single one has achieved his own version of being a perfect Muslim! The Koran, well, oops, who has time for that whether he is educated or illiterate…there are so many interesting thngs to do other than read and understand the Koran. So we’ll carry on, ignorant Philistines trammelling the name of a great religion and imagining we’re the chosen ones just like the Jews Allah castigates in Sura e Baqra. May Allah somehow treat us all with the greatest mercy, for without it surely we are doomed in both worlds. Recommend

  • SUB
    Feb 3, 2011 - 5:42PM

    @MAD: Because Zia does not have a political lagacy to cover his rare. He has no Majawars like PPP has to sing praise for him and fool people by cash in on the “blood of Bhuttos”Recommend

  • John
    Feb 3, 2011 - 6:26PM

    @Hamaad Haider:
    Glad to see some logical comments. However, blasphemy sentence is proscribed in the Hadith when a Jewish woman reverted back in her faith and a few others. Sharia law blasphemy is mostly based on Hadith. Having said that, it is high time to revisit certain laws. An eye for an eye may be a justice 1400 years ago but we have come a long way and such punishments would only make the whole world blind eventually.
    In Pakistan, the second amendment to the constitution itself is discriminatory to non Muslims.
    Some of the comments elaborate more on this. The problem of this blasphemy law is rooted in the constitution, and the very idea of Islamic theocracy being the foundation of the constitution, national religion, and defining who is a Muslim and who are not creates a problem. The are many discussion on this subject. The recent constitution on Iraq also faced the crisis but they kind of avoided it, at least for time being. Indonesia is also facing the same problem.

    Every one blames Mullahs but the problem is non Arabic speaking islamists rarely read the Quran and Hadith in their own language to understand it all. They memorize Quran, but most of their understanding comes from what the Mullah says. In some places it is good. In some places, such as in certain areas of Pak it is not good.

    Blasphemy law is against the freedom of thought, not for non Muslims, but only for Muslims.
    In Pak however, the national identity makes it complicated. Recommend

  • John
    Feb 3, 2011 - 6:42PM

    @Delirium:
    That is the problem in theocracy. Democracy means equality, which also includes freedom of thought, expression, religion or not.

    Theocracy means one is superior over the other, so no equality.

    The second amendment to the constitution in Pak firmly establishes theocracy in Pak.

    So in Pak it is always a problem of democracy versus theocracy.

    The present situation on blasphemy is a classical case, death sentence or not.

    In democracy there is no blasphemy. In theocracy there is always a blasphemy.

    The case applies to all religious states, Islamic, Christianity, Jewish, Hindus, etc, regardless of what the religion says. Classical case: Iran. Shia state where Sunni sect in problem, and I other Islamic state it is vice versa.

    It is not the religion but the state sponsorship of religion. As long as it is the identity of Pak, there will always be Blasphemy.Recommend

  • John
    Feb 3, 2011 - 6:44PM

    @Ahmad Jehangiri:
    The sole problem is Which God? and who is going to define against which god there is a blasphemy.Recommend

  • Neha Khan
    Feb 3, 2011 - 8:30PM

    This whole thing is becoming a joke now. Mullahs are simply trying to find a way back through these very dangerous means. Only God can forgive Zia for what he has done to our country…it is not possible for mortals like me to forgive him. Recommend

  • Natasha
    Feb 3, 2011 - 9:02PM

    I have read the comments passed by other people on this particular article. Almost all of the commentators are against the current blasphemy law and want it changed. Then why don’t the literate/liberal also protest against the non-amendment of this law. I’ll tell you why. We are wusses. We are just as scared of getting hurt as the PPP government is!Recommend

  • Dr Pakhtun
    Feb 3, 2011 - 9:49PM

    @John and Hammad Haider

    Those Ahadith are taken out of context or misinterpreted. If you read those events narrated in Ahadith in more detailed history books like Seerat Ibni-Hasham or Tabqat ibn-i-saad, you shall find that those people were killed for actively working against the nascent state of Medina, instigating people for attacks on muslims- in some cases even financing anti-muslim war efforts. I agree with Hammad Haider that there no punishment for Blasphemy in either the Holy Quran or in Sunnah.If there is any punishment for blasphemy in sunnag, then what about the biggest blasphemer, Abdullah bin Ubbayi bin salool?

    Let me also add that even Imam Abu Hanifa disagrees with death punishment for non-muslim blasphemers. Recommend

  • Feb 3, 2011 - 10:01PM

    We have to accept the ground realities and must take into account the dominant socio-political factors typically pertinent to our environment before going all out for a buzz or a slogan.

    The fact remains that we are living in a society where the religion cannot be separated from the state. If the recent spate of events still casts any doubt in the minds, I am surprised!

    From our experiences we have learnt, over and over again, that owing to sensitivity, there are subjects and topics that cannot even be brought up for discussion or debate. What’s the point in blindly following the tenets of western democracy if that cannot be applied to Pakistan in spirit?

    We are still debating on the Jinnah’s perception of Pakistan and the (so called) ideology of Pakistan and whether or not it revolves around Islam?

    I know democracy has never been allowed to take roots. Lets not talk about the effects or the results but lets just touch the basics. How far has it challenged the status quo or the exploitation upon which our entire social structure is built and weaved? In what way has it harmed the interests of the vicious circle comprising the feudal, elites, industrialists and religious/secular elements or loosened their grip on the system? Has it contributed anything in reducing the communal tension, sheer divide, polarity and fissures and stratification in a highly class ridden society?

    If not, how do I believe that it is the best form of governance!?

    Unless we are able to revolutionize our education sector and evolve a strong middle class as a result, we cannot expect much of a change. And how are we going to bring that about_ that’s a challenge!?Recommend

  • Feb 4, 2011 - 10:00AM

    @Natasha:

    That’s not the point. Maybe as a Muslim, I am against the change in law. But that is my personal take on the matter. When we talk of democracy it merits freedom of speech and discussion on any subject. If our streets go blazing with any such prospects then our system is not ripe to accept the liberties and virtues of democracy. Recommend

  • Feb 4, 2011 - 12:26PM

    @Hamaad Haider:
    you just said that there is no death penalty for the biggest sin in islam, but there is a death penalty to murder, does this mean that murder is a bigger sin than shirk ??Recommend

  • fatima
    Mar 7, 2011 - 8:33PM

    well being a educted person we should respect our law.Recommend

  • Mar 7, 2011 - 11:34PM

    @fatima:
    if the law was made by a DEVIENT MULLAH then being educated its OUR JOB to OPPOSE IT!!

    This law was made by MULLAHS and is certainly the BLACKEST LAW POSSIBLERecommend

  • Critical Observer
    Mar 12, 2011 - 6:49PM

    @fatima: being the same educate dperson, we should also be able to and daring of critically looking at dysfunctional laws. And blasphemy law is the ultimate murder of humanity – the “black law” that the Salman Taseer Shaheed called it.Recommend

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