Pakistan’s mad blasphemy law: clerics call for the death of Sherry Rehman

BRITISH-educated Sherry Rehman, a journalist and a senior leader of the Pakistan People’s Party, is reportedly refusing to leave Pakistan, despite renewed calls by fanatical Muslim clerics to have her killed.

Sherry Rehman: Muslim fanatics want her dead.

Rehman incurred the wrath of Muslim fundamentalists when she called for changes in the blasphemy law. Last November, she submitted a private bill in Parliament that sought to drop the mandatory death sentence for blasphemy.

According to this report, Interior Minister Rehman Malik advised the former information minister to leave the country if she wanted to keep safe from religious extremists.

A source last week told Pakistan Today that Malik telephoned Sherry, telling her to leave the country at the earliest opportunity because:

Fanatics are hell bent to take her life due to her views on blasphemy laws.

Renewed threats against Rehman came days after a police guard gunned down Punjab Governor Salman Taseer for criticising the blasphemy law.

According to this report, several clerics issued fatwas against Rehman, declaring her an infidel. Media reports said the imam of Sultan Masjid, one of Karachi’s biggest mosques, declared Rehman a “kaafir” (infidel) and “wajib-ul-qatl” (fit to be killed) while delivering a sermon after last Friday’s prayers.

The mosque has close ties to the Saudi Arabian government.

Security has been enhanced at Rehman’s residence in Karachi, but she has told the media she will not leave Pakistan.

Meanwhile, according to this report, tens of thousands of people rallied yesterday in the Pakistani city of Karachi against any changes to the blasphemy law.

A large number of police officers guarded Sunday’s demonstration, which forced the closure of businesses and roads in the area. Participants chanted slogans and waved the flags of religious parties.

Qari Ahsaan, from the banned group Jamaat ud Dawa, addressed the crowd from a stage, saying:

We can’t compromise on the blasphemy law. It’s a divine law and nobody can change it. Our belief in the sanctity of our prophet is firm and uncompromising and we cannot tolerate anyone who blasphemes. Whoever blasphemes will face the same fate as Salman Taseer.

But speaking to Al Jazeera from Islamabad, Omar Waraich, Pakistan correspondent for the UK’s Independence newspaper, said:

The reality is that there are no moves afoot right now to amend this law in any way. The government and the ruling party [Pakistan People's Party, or PPP] have backed off that. It [the rally] certainly means that a more radical, more intolerant mood has become mainstream in Pakistan for the moment. For the moment the liberal voices have been silenced.

Hat tip: Roger F