The government on Wednesday declared September 21 (Friday) a national holiday in honour of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) as thousands continued to pour onto the streets for another day of demonstrations against an anti-Islam movie.
“I intend that a message should go to the world that the federal cabinet of Pakistan strongly condemns this sacrilegious film … At this moment, I call upon the people of Pakistan to register their protest peacefully, observe restraint and refrain from damaging their own property,” Prime Minister Raja Pervaiz Ashraf said during opening remarks at the cabinet meeting while calling for peaceful protests.
The government’s decision to observe ‘Ishq-e-Rasool (PBUH)’ day (day of expression of love for the Prophet Muhammad [PBUH]) was taken at a cabinet meeting after religious parties – which have mostly dominated dozens of rallies against the movie across the country – called for countrywide protests on Friday to denounce the blasphemous film. According to sources, the prime minister was unsatisfied with statements from high-ranking US officials condemning the anti-Islam ‘movie’, and had directed the Foreign Office to handover a demarche to the US envoy in Islamabad and lodge a strong protest against the film.
Meanwhile, Information Minister Qamar Zaman Kaira ruled out the possibility of expelling the US ambassador in Pakistan while briefing the media after the cabinet meeting. The information minister said no government in the world was supporting the ‘culprits’ involved in the making of the sacrilegious movie, adding that it would not be justified to expel the ambassador of any country.
“We should hold peaceful protests and pray to God to remove the weaknesses of the Muslims, because of which we are facing this situation,” Kaira said, adding that, even though Pakistan respected freedom of speech, “hateful material” should not be allowed.
Furthermore, Kaira said the cabinet had requested the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) to enter into an agreement with YouTube to only restrict access to blasphemous content.
“We will send a message to the world that Muslims of Pakistan are protesting about this, and we won’t tolerate even a single sentence against the dignity of the Holy Prophet (PBUH),” Kaira told the news conference, adding that the cabinet had also asked President Asif Zardari to raise the issue at the United Nations General Assembly.
“The argument that the blasphemous film is part of freedom of expression or speech is not viable and we expect the international community to take all steps and make laws that avoid such incidents in future,” he added.
Kaira said the prime minister would also address the nation on Friday to discuss measures taken by the government to lodge its protest against the anti-Islam film.
PM Ashraf also reiterated the government’s policy of reconciliation during cabinet proceedings, saying it would continue to tread on this path.
“I, along with the coalition partners, attended the proceedings in the Supreme Court and told the court that the government had decided to withdraw the former attorney general’s letter,” said the premier while discussing the NRO implementation case pending before the Supreme Court.
During the proceedings, the prime minister also apprised cabinet members about his recent visit to China, adding that the maintenance of the Karakoram Highway (KKH) and matters of defence were also discussed with his counterpart.
The premier also appreciated the relief and rescue efforts of the armed forces and the National Disaster Management Authority during this year’s floods. Ashraf said he had also taken note of the culling of infected Australian sheep, adding that an investigation was underway to identify those responsible for this act.
Published in The Express Tribune, September 20th, 2012.