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Blasphemy petition condemned

Action against ambassador could promote extremism

Blasphemy petition condemned
Mourners at the funeral of minister Shahbaz Bhatti, accused of blasphemy and assassinated in 2011
ucanews.com reporter, Lahore
Pakistan

January 21, 2013

A number of activist groups united last week condemned calls for blasphemy charges to be brought against the Pakistan ambassador to the United States.

About 200 people from local NGOs gathered at a seminar organized by the Joint Action Committee for People’s Rights, during which speakers criticized an attempt by Muslim clerics to prosecute Sherry Rehman.

A two-judge bench of the Supreme Court last week accepted a petition filed by Faheem AKhtar Gill, a resident of Multan city. The petition, backed by depositions from several clerics, accused Rehman of making blasphemous comments during an interview with a television news channel two years ago.

Following the petition, Rehman wrote in a Twitter message that she had been advised not to comment on the issue.

Local and international rights groups have frequently criticized the country’s blasphemy laws, while politicians in the country seeking to amend the legislation have faced death threats and targeted killings.

Asma Jahangir, a human rights lawyer, said the judges of the country’s apex court bypassed best practices in the latest blasphemy allegation against Rehman.

“There was no appeal against it, and Rehman was not sent any prior notice to the charges being filed,” said Jahangir, a former president of the Supreme Court Bar Association.

“The former US ambassador [Hussein Haqqani] was accused of treachery [for seeking US help against a possible military coup], and now there is an alleged blasphemy charge. What impression are we giving to the outside world?” she asked.

Peter Jacob, executive secretary of the Catholic Bishops’ National Commission for Justice and Peace, also criticized what he said was hasty judicial activism on the part of the Supreme Court.

“This is a disturbing and disappointing attitude by higher judges. We are worried about future proceedings and hope a bigger bench will clamp down on the petition,” he said.

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