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Saturday, January 1, 2011
By Shamim Bano
The busy life of the metropolis took a pause on Friday when thousands of supporters and activists of various religious parties and groups marched and shouted a warning to the government – don’t change the blasphemy law or face more protests, including a civil disobedience movement.
The shutter-down strike – the call for which was given by the Tehreek-e-Namoos-e-Risalat (TNR) in protest against proposed amendments to the country’s contentious blasphemy law – also seemed a wheel-jam strike as public transport stayed off the road.
All trader organisations backed the strike and kept their businesses shut. All shopping centres of the city also closed. The Sunni Ittehad Council staged a massive rally led by Sahibzada Fazal Karim. The rally started from Shamzai Chowk and ended at the Tibet Centre on MA Jinnah Road amid tight security. Rangers and other law enforcers were deployed on the rooftops of several buildings along the route of the rally as part of the security measures. Roads and lanes leading towards the site of the rally were closed to all vehicular traffic.
The rally adopted several resolutions, one of which demanded of Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani to give a policy statement in the parliament or address the nation to satisfy the citizens of the country over the issue.
The resolutions demanded removal of Salman Taseer as the governor of Punjab for trying to get the blasphemy law amended. They also demanded that the private bill presented to a committee of the National Assembly by PPP MNA Sherry Rehman should be withdrawn or the parliamentary committee should reject it.
The participants of the rally urged that Minister for Minority Affairs Shahbaz Bhatti, who is also the head of a committee formed to review the proposed changes in the law, should either voluntarily resign or be replaced.
The rally was attended by Sarwat Ejaz Qadri of the Sunni Tehreek, Haji Hanif Tayyub, Shahid Ghauri and others. Later, the Tehreek-e-Namoos-e-Risalat (TNR) threatened a million-man march on Islamabad if the government considered proposed amendments to the blasphemy law.
The TNR also gave the government a nine-day ultimatum to clear its stance, otherwise people would lay a siege to the Parliament House. The ultimatum was given by TNR chief Sahibzada Abul Khair at a joint press conference addressed by about 35 religious and political leaders at the Idara-i-Noor-i-Haq.
The leaders said the strike conveyed a message to the government and the entire western world that any change in the blasphemy law would be resisted and people would take to the streets in protest.
They demanded immediate dissolution of the committee headed by Shahbaz Bhatti . The demand came a day after a federal minister made it clear that the government was not considering changing the law.
The religious and political leaders also called for immediate removal of Sherry Rehman as MNA. They said the government should denounce the bill presented by the MNA. They also demanded immediate sacking of Governor Punjab Salman Taseer, and vowed that their struggle would continue till his removal from office.
Shaibzada Zubair said a public meeting was scheduled to be held in the city on January 9 and “we have given nine days to the government to remove all ambiguities in this regard or be ready to face the consequences”.
The chief of Alami Khatam-i-Nabuwat, Maulana Tauseef, said anyone using derogatory remarks against the president of Pakistan is charged with treason under the Constitution, so any person who uses sacrilegious remarks against Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) should also be punished and given the death sentence under the Islamic law.
Maulana Afzal Sardar of Jamiat-i-Ahle Hadith said that though there were different sects in the country, they were united at one platform on the issue of Namoos-i-Risalat as they had taken oath to safeguard the sanctity of the Holy Prophet (PBUH).
Professor Ghafoor Ahmed of the Jamaat-i-Islami said that Muslims could be impractical but would never tolerate any derogatory remarks against the Holy Prophet (PBUH) or any change in the blasphemy law.
AFP adds: Violence flared in an area of the city on Friday as police and protesters clashed during a mass protest strike that closed businesses over a bid to change the blasphemy law. Police said protesters near the Bilawal House pelted stones as they shouted slogans, including “we’ll sacrifice our lives — we’ll save the sanctity of the Prophet” (PBUH). Teargas shells were fired to disperse them, AFP reporters said.