KARACHI: A crippling strike shut down businesses and schools and derailed transport services across the country on Friday as religious parties offered their stoutest defence yet of the blasphemy laws. Despite the government’s firm assurances that the law would remain unchanged, leaders of the religious parties were determined to show just how much they opposed such a change.
On Thursday, the State Minister for Information Samsam Bokhari ruled out the possibility of any change in the law. “We will start a civil disobedience movement if the government makes any amendment to the law,” said Sunni Ittehad Council chairman Sahibzada Fazal Karim.
Analysts say the strike has more to do with politics than religion. “The government right now is in crisis and these religious parties are pressurising the government by playing with public sentiments,” political analyst Hasan Askari Rizvi told Reuters. Critics say the law is used to persecute religious minorities, fan religious extremism and settle personal scores.
In Karachi shopping centres, colleges and universities were closed and examinations scheduled for Friday were postponed.
President of the local transport association in Karachi, Irshad Bokhari, said public transport would remain off the road in response to the strike call. Chairman of Karachi Traders Unity, Atiq Mir said: “All markets and business centres are closed because the protection of Prophet Muhammad’s (pbuh) honour is supreme to us.” A joint press conference was also held by more than 30 religious parties belonging to different sects at Idara-e-Noor-e-Haq here.
Speaking at the occasion, Tahfuz-e Namoos-e-Risalat convenor Abdul Khair Muhammad Zubair said Pakistan came into being in the name of Islam and no one would be allowed to amend the law. Zubair said the government, its ministers and parliamentarians should avoid talking on the issue. He called for hanging those who commit blasphemy and demanded action to be taken against the Punjab governor, who had called the blasphemy law a smear on the constitution.
Zubair said that a phased plan had been devised as part of their struggle. The first phase was launched on December 24. “The second event is the strike, but the third event, which is the most important, will be a large public gathering in Karachi on January 9 at MA Jinnah Road. “Thousands of people will gather to express their love for Islam and the Holy Prophet Muhammad (pbuh),” he said.
A strike was also observed in other parts of the province including Sukkur, Rohri, Pano Aqil, Ghotki, Mirpur Mathelo, Daharki and Jacobabad among others.
In Islamabad, hundreds of supporters of Tehreek-i-Tahafuz-i-Namoos-i-Risalat (TTNS) rallied amid a complete shutter down in the twin cities to demonstrate their ‘pledge’ against attempts to amend blasphemy laws. Leading a rally held in Rawalpindi, General Secretary of Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam – Fazl Maulana Ghafoor Haideri threatened of more protests and even a ‘long march and civil disobedience if the government attempted any amendments in the blasphemy laws’.
Protesters demanded an end to foreign intervention in the country’s internal affairs at rallies in Lahore. Protests were taken out from offices of trade associations after Friday prayers. Two of the major rallies were held at The Mall and Ichhra Chowk on Ferozepur Road. The rally at The Mall totalled close to 500 people, while the one on Ferozepur Road brought out about 200 people.
A complete shutter down was observed in many areas of Balochistan. The Jamiat-Ulema Islam (Ideology) organised a rally and held a demonstration in Mezan Chowk in Quetta, criticising the government’s intention to amend the blasphemy law.
WITH ADDITIONAL INPUT FROM AGENCIES
Published in The Express Tribune, January 1st, 2011.