LAHORE: Religious clerics belonging to the Sunni Tehrik and Aalmi Tanzim Ahle Sunnat (ATAS) on Tuesday condemned government officials and religious figures who expressed sympathy for the Christian woman convicted of blasphemy, during a protest in front of the Lahore Press Club.
The protesters, comprising seminary students and clerics, took out a rally, holding banners and placards, criticising government officials.
The protesters criticised President Asif Ali Zardari, Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani, Punjab Law Minister Rana Sanaullah, religious schoolar Allama Javed Ghamdi and Pope Benedict for issuing statements in favour of Aasia Bibi, but Punjab Governor Salmaan Taseer remained the focus of their resentment. He had met Aasia at the Sheikhupura jail and committed to take her case to the president.
Addressing the protesters, ATAS central leader, Pir Muhammad Afzal Qadri, asked the chief justice of Pakistan to take suo motu action against the governor for supporting a ‘blasphemer’. Qadri also challenged Ghamdi to debate over the punishment of a blasphemer in Islam.
Referring to Pope Benedict’s statement about Zardari trying to send Aasia aborad, he warned the president that if such a step were taken, the ATAS would stage a sit-in in front of the President’s House for an indefinite period.
He announced that the ATAS would hold a protest in front of Governor’s House on Wednesday (today).
Qadri said that if Justice Arif Iqbal Bhatti of the Lahore High Court could be assassinated for acquitting two Christian brothers accused of blasphemy, government functionaries supporting Aasia Bibi should not expect to be spared.
Bhatti is believed to have been shot in October 1997 for acquitting the two brothers in March, 1995.
Other speakers of the Sunni Tehrik and Aalmi Tanzim Ahle Sunnat included Maulana Muhammad Naeem Noori, Sahibzada Syed Mukhtar Ashraf Rizvi, Tahir Qadri, Maulana Muhammad Ali Naqashbandi and Ziaul Mustafa.
An appeal for protection
Chairman of Free Legal Assistance and Settlements Advocate Anis AA Saadi, in a statement issued on Tuesday, said that there was no evidence against Aasia and that she was given capital punishment under pressure from extremist elements. He said that judges in lower courts remained under intense pressure during trials dealing with blasphemy.He condemned the conviction of Aasia Bibi and said that Aasia and her family’s life was at risk. He said that the human rights activists supporting her were also not safe.
He appealed to President Zardari to take measures to protect Aasia and others falsely accused of blasphemy who led their lives in jails for crimes they had not committed. He said many blasphemy suspects had so far been killed inside jail and on court premises. These included Tahir Iqbal, Haji Yousaf, Samuel Maish, and Naseem Bibi who were killed inside prisons. Pastor Rasheed and Sajad Masih were killed in police custody at courts premises.
Published in The Express Tribune November 24th, 2010.