Violence flared Friday as police and protesters clashed during a mass protest strike that closed businesses across Pakistan over a bid to end the death penalty for blasphemy.
Police said protesters near the home of President Asif Ali Zardari in the financial hub of Karachi pelted stones as they shouted slogans including “We’ll sacrifice our lives — we’ll save the sanctity of the Prophet”.
Teargas shells were fired to disperse them, while normally busy town centres turned quiet across the country, AFP reporters said, following a move to amend a law which permits death sentences for those found to have blasphemed.
Public transport in Karachi is unavailable, while petrol pumps and business centres have also been shut down.
The strike is also being observed in Lahore where PML-N, PML-Q, Tehreek-i-Insaf and other religious and trade organisations have announced their support for the cause. More than 2,500 activists from different religious parties held three protest rallies in Multan city in central Punjab province, where a shutter-down strike was observed and markets and bazaars remained closed, an AFP reporter said.
A complete shutter down strike is also being observed in Peshawar and other parts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.
Balochistan has also joined the call for protest as shops and business centres remain closed in Quetta and other cities.
Updated from print edition (below)
Blasphemy laws: Clerics refuse to withdraw call for nationwide strike
The government’s fresh endeavours on Thursday to appease religious groups failed to make any headway as angry clerics remained defiant and refused to withdraw a strike call for Friday to protest against reported plans of repealing or amending blasphemy laws.
Leaders from religious groups refused to call back their strike despite several denials by the government.
Religious groups representing both Deobandi and Barelvi schools of thought said they would not withdraw the call backed by trade unions and transporters from across the country.
Their leaders said they would not accept any clarification by anybody less than either the president or the prime minister after several top officials denied plans of touching Zia-era’s controversial act.
Blasphemy laws are at the centre stage of the country’s beleaguered politics since President Asif Ali Zardari announced a pardon for a Christian woman whom a local court in a central Punjab district sentenced to death for allegedly insulting Prophet Muhammad (pbuh).
The government on Wednesday told the National Assembly it would never repeal or amend a law which was an integral ‘part of Muslims’ faith’.
On Thursday as well, at least two federal ministers and one provincial minister came up with a clarification that the law would neither be repealed nor amended.
State Information Minister Sumsam Ali Bukhari stated categorically there was no proposal to amend the anti-blasphemy act as the Namoos-e-Risalat was a sensitive matter not only for the religious-political parties but for all Muslims.
“Neither the Pakistan Peoples Party nor the government has discussed the issue, to bring any amendment in the blasphemy law,” he told a news conference on the eve of what could be a shutter-down and wheel-jam strike across the country.
Leaders from Wafaqul Madaris Al Arabia urged ‘all faithful Muslims to make the strike a success to teach a lesson to the infidel powers’, a reference to the government.
Trade unions and associations for transporters were also firm on their positions to back the strike, indicating that it might be a successful venture.
Vice-chairman of All Pakistan Traders Association Ajmal Baloch told The Express Tribune that traders across the country will not open shops to support the cause of Namoos-e-Risalat.
Published in The Express Tribune, December 31st, 2010.