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Pakistanis Rally in Support of Blasphemy Law

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Mark
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« on: January 04, 2011, 06:25:22 am »

Pakistanis Rally in Support of Blasphemy Law

A crippling strike by Islamist parties brought Pakistan to a standstill on Friday as thousands of people took to the streets, and forced businesses to close, to head off any change in the country’s blasphemy law, which rights groups say has been used to persecute minorities, especially Christians.

The law was introduced in the 1980s under the military dictatorship of Gen. Mohammad Zia ul-Haq as part of a policy of promoting Islam to unite this deeply fractious society. Many attempts to revise the law have since been thwarted by the strong opposition of religious forces, which continue to gather strength.

In fiery speeches across all major cities and towns, religious leaders warned the government on Friday against altering the law, which carries a mandatory death sentence for anyone convicted of insulting Islam.

rest: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/01/01/world/asia/01pakistan.html?_r=2&partner=rss&emc=rss
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« Reply #1 on: January 04, 2011, 09:12:28 am »

Governor of Pakistan's Punjab province assassinated

Islamabad, Pakistan (CNN) -- The governor of Pakistan's Punjab province was assassinated by his own security guard Tuesday, according to Interior Minister Rehman Malik, apparently because he spoke out against the country's controversial blasphemy law.

The security guard was arrested, Malik said. The shooting occurred at Islamabad's Kohsar Market, which is frequented by foreigners.

Malik told reporters the guard had confessed to killing Salman Taseer over the governor's describing the blasphemy law as a "black law," the Associated Press of Pakistan reported. After the shooting, the guard -- identified by the APP as Malik Mumtaz Hussain Qadri -- immediately surrendered to authorities, according to the report.

Taseer was leaving the market when he was shot. The APP said he had had lunch with a friend at a cafe in the market. Earlier, Naeem Iqbal, spokesman for Islamabad police, said Taseer had gone into the market to make some purchases. He was taken to a hospital following the shooting, but died, apparently from blood loss, officials said.

A spotlight was put on Pakistan's controversial law in November when a Christian woman, Asia Bibi of Punjab province, was sentenced to death for blasphemy. A court found the 45-year-old woman guilty of defiling the name of the Prophet Mohammed during a 2009 argument with fellow Muslim field workers.

An investigation by a Pakistani government ministry found the charges against Bibi stemmed from "religious and personal enmity" and recommended her release. The government also said it would review the law.

In remarks to CNN in November, Taseer said Pakistan's President, Asif Ali Zardari, would pardon Bibi if the courts did not.

"He's a liberal, modern-minded president, and he's not going to see a poor woman like this targeted and executed ... it's just not going to happen," he said.

"The blasphemy law is not a God-made law. It's a man-made law," he said. "... It's a law that gives an excuse to extremists and reactionaries to target weak people and minorities."

No "big, rich, powerful man" runs afoul of the law, he noted. "It's only the poor people who they want to, you know, either grab their property or threaten them or get into local disputes. So the law is actually an unfortunate leftover from a military regime. It has to go in due course or be amended, and I think the pressure is on us, is on the parliamentarians now.

"People have spoken up, I'm very happy to say," he added. "I took the initiative and I think from all sides ... people are coming out and openly condemning the blasphemy law. I think that's encouraging."

Taseer said he would like to see the law "changed in such a way that it just basically says, if you insult any prophet, no matter who he is, that's a criminal offense, but certainly not punishable by death."

Reaction to the assassination from Pakistani officials was swift. Prime Minister Syed Yusuf Raza Gilani said in a statement he "strongly condemned" the incident. The Pakistan People's Party, the nation's ruling party, said it would observe two weeks of mourning over Taseer's death, according to GEO TV.

The English-educated Taseer created "a host of highly successful businesses," according to his official website, and is "the pioneer of cable television in Pakistan." He introduced the first English news channel in Pakistan, Business Plus.

His website describes Taseer as an activist who stood up to Pakistan's previous military leadership, calling it a "brutal and medievalistic dictatorship." He was arrested a total of 16 times, according to the website, placed on house arrest several times and spent time in "jails around the country."

He married twice and had six children, according to his website, which also contained a quote from him: "You live life once, you live it by your principles and you live it courageously -- that's what it's about." He lived in Lahore, Pakistan.

Taseer's official Facebook page lists his favorite books as Niccolo Machiavelli's "The Prince" and biographies "of everyone -- from Napoleon to Richard Branson to Hugh Hefner."

He had been governor of Punjab province since May 2008.

http://www.cnn.com/2011/WORLD/asiapcf/01/04/pakistan.governor.killed/index.html
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