LAHORE: Rights activists on Sunday staged a rally in front of the Lahore Press Club in protest against the death sentence handed to Aasia Bibi, the Christian woman charged with blasphemy by an additional district judge of Nankana Sahib on November 8.
Meanwhile, members of Tahafuz Namoos-e-Risalat Mahaz (TNRM) in a press conference vowed to resist any step taken by the government to strike down her sentence.
Protestors belonging to the All Pakistan Minorities Alliance (APMA) demanded the government set Aasia Bibi free. The protest was led by MPA Najmi Saleem. They chanted slogans against the blasphemy laws, calling them ‘black laws’ introduced by a dictator to prolong his rule. They held placards and banners saying, “We want immediate release of Aasia Bibi” and “Abolish blasphemy laws”. The protestors appealed to the Chief Justice of Pakistan to take suo motu notice of Aasia Bibi’s sentence.
Addressing the protest, MPA Saleem said that Aasia was innocent and was being charged with a crime she did not commit. She said minorities were being victimised under the blasphemy laws, adding that General Ziaul Haq introduced the laws for personal gain. “By promulgating such laws, Zia’s regime set the stage for religious extremism in the country,” she said.
Saleem said that sections 295-B and C of the Pakistan Penal Code were being used by some sections of society as a weapon against minorities. “Minorities in Pakistan are living under the constant threat of violence,” she added.
She said that the government should repeal the law or at least amend it to stop its misuse.
Representatives of Tahafuz Namoos-e-Risalat Mahaz, however, warned the government not to repeal the blasphemy laws. They said that they would resist any step taken by the government for ‘illegal’ release of Aasia Bibi.
Maulana Muhammad Ali Naqashbandi, the TNRM general secretary, criticised Governor Salmaan Taseer for issuing statements in favour of Aasia Bibi. He announced that the TNRM would organise a protest in front of Governor’s House on November 24, adding that calling Aasia innocent was tantamount to contempt of court as she had been given a death sentence by a competent court after following the due process of law.
Naqashbandi said that if the government sided with Aasia Bibi, it would hurt the sentiments of millions of Muslims and “force them to follow the way of Ghazi Ilmuddin Shaheed, who had killed a blasphemer”. He said that Aasia Bibi should only be allowed legal remedies for her release and deserved no special treatment. He called upon the parliament to review the law allowing the president to pardon a convict. Talking to The Express Tribune, he admitted that there was room to amend the blasphemy laws in order to stop its misuse. However, he said that the government should only move ahead with the amendments after consulting religious scholars.
Muhammad Ziaul Haq, Mufti Masoodul Rehman, Maulana Farman Ali Naqashbandi, Maulana Shahid Aziz, Muhammad Fiaz Jalali and Maulana Ghulam Abbas Faizi were also present at the TNSM press conference.
Published in The Express Tribune, November 22nd, 2010.