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Pakistan abandons Plans to reform controversial blasphemy law

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Pakistan government has abandoned plans to amend the country's blasphemy law following protests in its capital Islamabad that left the city paralyzed for almost four days.

The Sunni Tehreek group descended on the capital on Sunday, March 27, to denounce the hanging of police officer Mumtaz Qadri for the 2011 murder of Governor Salman Taseer.

Hundreds of protesters rallied for days in Islamabad before ending their sit-in on Wednesday after gathering assurances from the government.

"The government assured the protesters that it had no plans to amend the blasphemy laws. We are also not going to pardon anyone convicted by courts for blasphemy," Railway Minister Saad Rafique said, who took part in talks with the protest leaders.

One of the main demands of the demonstrators was government assurances that the blasphemy laws will not be amended.

According to Al Jazeera the protesters were saying that it was a victory for them since they are able to put Pakistan blasphemy law back on the national agenda.

Salman Taseer had enraged many by describing Pakistan's blasphemy legislation as a "black law".

Supreme Court calls for improvements in blasphemy law

In Oct 2015, Pakistan's Supreme Court upheld the Oct 1, 2011 capital sentence given by an anti-terrorism court to Malik Mohammad Mumtaz Qadri. The judgment said that blasphemy was abhorrent and immoral, besides being a manifestation of intolerance, but a false allegation is equally detestable as well as culpable.

The Supreme Court called for improvements in the blasphemy law in order to provide safeguards against its misuse by leveling false allegations should not be considered objectionable. It is an unfortunate fact, which cannot be disputed, that in many cases registered in respect of blasphemy offence, false allegations are leveled for extraneous purposes. And in the absence of adequate safeguards against misapplication or misuse of such law by motivated persons the persons falsely accused of that offence suffer beyond proportion or repair, the verdict said.

Pakistan's blasphemy laws actually draw from the Indian Penal code of 1860, created by the British colonial rulers of the time. The original laws included a list of crimes which were composed of - among other things - disturbing a religious assembly, trespassing on burial grounds, insulting religious beliefs and intentionally destroying or desecrating a place or an object of worship. These laws also created a punishment, ranging from 1-10 years in jail, with or without a fine. Pakistan inherited these laws when the country was created in 1947 and several clauses were added between1980-1986, which was during the regime of military dictator General Zia ul Haq. These added clauses included the "crimes" of desecrating the Quran and insulting the Prophet Muhammad.

However, any changes in the law is a very sensitive issue in Pakistan. In February 2011, Pakistan People's Party Member of Parliament, Sherry Rehman, withdrew her attempt to amend the laws after receiving numerous death threats. Her bill called for an end to the death penalty under the existing blasphemy laws.

During his trial, Qadri's legal defence was that Salman Taseer opposed Pakistan's blasphemy laws by supporting Christian woman Asia Bibi, who was charged with allegedly desecrating Islam's holy book, the Quran.

Qadri was convicted and sentenced to death in October 2011. But he is viewed as a hero by many people who thought Taseer was a blasphemer. The Anti-Terrorism Court (ATC) Judge Syed Pervez Ali Shah, who awarded death sentence to Qadri was forced to flee the country after receiving death threats.

Mumtaz Qadri hanged

Mumtaz Qadri was hanged on February 29, 2016 at Adiala Jail near Islamabad/Rawalpindi. Islamabad Bar Association called his hanging a judicial murder and observed a "black day". Okara Bar Association observed a strike in the district complex to protest the hanging. No lawyer attended any court.

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Author and journalist. Author of Islamic Pakistan: Illusions & Reality; Islam in the Post-Cold War Era; Islam & Modernism; Islam & Muslims in the Post-9/11 America. Currently working as free lance journalist. Executive Editor of American (more...)
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