A Pakistani law that felled a minister and a governor

March 3rd, 2011 - 6:46 pm ICT by IANS  

Islamabad, March 3 (IANS) Pakistan’s blasphemy law, which carries a death sentence for the person who insults the Prophet, has caused the killing of a minister who was a Christian and an outspoken governor, bringing into focus a law that was first codified 150-years back.

Pakistan’s Federal Minister for Minorities Shahbaz Bhatti was assassinated Wednesday in Islamabad while Punjab governor Salman Taseer was killed by his own bodyguard Jan 4.

Both had sought reform in the blasphemy law and both had sought presidential pardon for Aasia Bibi, a 45-year-old Christian farmhand sentenced to death on charges of denigrating the Prophet.

Taseer’s killing had divided the country with many hailing his bodyguard Mumtaz Qadri as a hero.

Aasia Bibi had begun facing problems in June 2009 in her village, Ittan Wali, in which hers was the only Christian household. A group of Muslim women and Aasia were picking berries when a row took place.

The women claimed she had insulted the Prophet. She was then pursued by a mob that attempted to kill her. Aasia Bibi, a mother of five, was later sentenced to death.

The offences relating to religion were first codified by British rulers in undivided India in 1860, and were then expanded in 1927.

Pakistan became independent in August 1947 and it inherited the laws. During the tenure of military strongman General Zia-ul-Haq in the 1980s, a number of clauses were added.

Rights group say that the laws have been used to persecute minority faiths. Hundreds of Christians are said to be among the accused.

Former information minister and parliamentarian Sherry Rehman introduced a private bill to amend the blasphemy law. But it was later withdrawn.

Sherry Rehman’s friends are now reported to be concerned about her safety as she was the third high-profile person to seek reforms to the blasphemy law. They are worried as the other two people - Bhatti and Taseer - are both dead.

Minorites form just five percent of Pakistan’s 170 million people. Christians are the second largest minority after Hindus.

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