Saturday, January 01, 2011

Religious strikes rocks Pakistan

A one day strike rocked Pakistan yesterday against proposed changes in the blasphemy laws Currently those who 'insult Islam' can be sentenced to death and, according to the BBC, this has led to around thirty people being killed. Critics add that the law is used to persecute religious minorities or to pursue vendettas.

Reports indicate that the strike, called by the religious parties and supported by a number of industrialists, had a wide ranging support closing down most major cities and public transport.

The proposals are being brought by Shahrbano Rahman, right, a founder of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan who was present when Benazir Bhutto was assassinated. Rahman may be a member of the ruling party but she is a strong advocate for human rights and has previously brought the Women Empowerment Bill, the Anti-Honor Killings Bill, the Domestic Violence Prevention Bill, the Affirmative Action Bill and the Hudood Repeal Bill as well as the the Freedom of Information Bill and the Press Act that opposed the arbitrary arrest of journalists.

Her bill seeks to eliminate the death penalty, criminalize incitement, and penalize false accusations. The government has distanced itself from her proposals although the governor of the Punjab Salmaan Taseer has been an outspoken advocate of the reforms.

Protesters demanded the death of Aasia Bibi, right, the first woman to have been sentenced to death under the law (in November), who fell foul of the law for her Roman Catholic beliefs. One leading campaigner said he'd give 6,000 dollars to anyone who killed her.

Since the law was enacted in 1986
1,060 people have been charged under the blasphemy law including 133 Christians, 450 Muslims, 456 Ahmadis and 21 Hindus. While executions are not carried out around thirty people have been lynched due to these prosecutions and it is thought that seven "committed suicide" while in police custody.

Rehman said that
it was necessary to “remove the teeth and infamous use of the blasphemy laws, but to understand the way forward for our society, as minorities remain the most exploited members of society... We need to seek out a way of removing these laws from the statute books”.

Politicians like Rehman, whose Parliamentary track record is excellent, are fighting a dangerous battle to try to push their society forwards. She'll be more than aware of the murderous track record of the religious forces and the military that are ranged against her - but yet she carries on anyway because of a deep commitment to human rights.

It's a shame that her struggle has not received more attention in the Western press, because Pakistan is a central political player on the global stage. Arguably anyway that Pakistan tips could see whole sections of the world follow. If they are moving forwards on women's rights, religious freedom and against corruption then it could potentially help those in other nations who are also engaged in those struggles.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

It's ok Len McCluskey says there is "no such thing as an irresponsible strike".