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Focus on blasphemy laws

world Updated: Jan 05, 2011 02:48 IST
Imtiaz Ahmad

The assassination of Salmaan Taseer has once again drawn attention to Pakistan's controversial blasphemy laws, which have been at the centre of debate of late.

Religious parties have been able to force Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani to step back from the government's earlier stance of changing these laws. This week, after a successful strike by right-wing parties, Gilani said that he would oppose any change to the laws "tooth and nail."

The change of tone by the PM shows the growing pressure on the government from right-wing forces. While the murder may not have any larger political implications, it illustrates how helpless the government feels, and how it acts, on the question of checking growing militancy in religious parties, says analyst Dr Mubarik Ali.

Taseer's killing due to his support for a woman convicted under the blasphemy law is yet another addition to the list of of those killed as a direct or indirect consequence of this legislation.

Threats were made, and protests held, against Taseer after he visited Aasia Bibi, a Christian woman awarded the death sentence for committing blasphemy, and expressed his support for her.

According to data compiled by the National Commission for Justice and Peace, a local NGO, extra-judicial killings of those accused under the country's blasphemy laws started in 1990, but the laws were in place since 1980, instituted by military strongman General Zia Ul Haq.

The first high-profile killing took place in 1997, when Lahore High Court judge Arif Iqbal Bhatti, who had acquitted two Christians accused of blasphemy in 1995, was shot to death as he left court. Many accused of blasphemy have been killed by mobs or in jail.

But several, as in the case of Taseer, have also been killed by police officials.

Pakistan Peoples Party's MP Sherry Rehman, who has introduced a bill in the National Assembly proposing amendments to the blasphemy laws, has been threatened against doing so by the Jamiat Ulema-e-Pakistan. Taseer and Rehman have been leading figures in the renewed debate on amendments in the law.

The death of Taseer is seen as the first high-profile killing of a politician after the death of Benazir Bhutto.

Within hours of his death, a Facebook page was created for fans of the killer of Taseer. People posted praise and congratulations on the site. In some parts of the country, some religious parties also celebrated the killing.

See More: Salman Taseer | The blasphemy law | Taseer married Indian journalist, had a son | Nasreen is blasphemer