Pakistan blasphemy laws will not be changed: PM

[JURIST] Pakistani Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani [BBC profile] announced Sunday that he has no intention of revising the country's contentious blasphemy laws [text; JURIST news archive] after Governor Salman Taseer of Punjab province was shot and killed Tuesday [JURIST report] apparently due to his opposition to the law. The laws envisage the death penalty for anyone who insults the Prophet Muhammad and have been widely criticized. Gilani made his statement on the same day as thousands protested in Karachi [TOI report] against amending the laws. Taseer, a senior member of the Pakistan People's Party (PPP) [party website], was shot by one of his security guards while getting into his car at Islamabad's Kohsar Market and died later at a hospital. Interior Minister Rehman Malik said the guard immediately surrendered to police and confessed to shooting Taseer because he had spoken against the blasphemy law. Controversy surrounding Pakistan's blasphemy law has recently been reignited over the case of Asia Bibi, a Christian woman sentenced to death for insulting the Prophet Muhammad during an argument with other women in her village last year. Tasseer had spoken in Bibi's defense.

Pakistan's blasphemy laws were introduced in 1986 as a way of protecting Muslim beliefs from insults. In response to repeated calls for repeal, Pakistani Federal Minister for Minority Affairs Shahbaz Bhatti [official profile] has said the laws may be amended to prevent misuse, but they will not be repealed. Advocacy groups such as Human Rights Watch [JURIST report], as well as LHC advocate Saroop Ijaz [JURIST op-ed] have called for the laws to be repealed. In February, Bhatti said that he has been speaking to various political parties [JURIST report] in Pakistan and that his government is committed to doing away with laws [AFP report] that are discriminatory to minorities. Bhatti made the comments at an interview with the AFP in Washington, DC, where he met with various lawmakers and officials during the National Prayer Breakfast. Bhatti discussed a proposed change in the law that would force judges to investigate blasphemy cases before they are docketed.

 

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