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Gilani rejects proposal to amend blasphemy law

Islamabad: Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani has approved a recommendation to reject official proposals to amend Pakistan`s controversial blasphemy law and to pardon a Christian woman sentenced to death for allegedly insulting Prophet Mohammed.

The Minority Affairs Ministry had proposed the amendment of the blasphemy law while the Interior Ministry had launched an initiative to pardon Asia Bibi, who was sentenced to death under the law last year.

But Law Minister Babar Awan had recommended that both proposals should be rejected.

The Law Minister`s recommendation was approved by Gilani yesterday, The News daily reported today.

An order issued by Khushnood Lashari, Principal Secretary to the Prime Minister, said: "The Prime Minister has been pleased to approve the proposals contained in the subject note of Minister for Law, Justice & Parliamentary Affairs".

"Ministries concerned are being conveyed necessary directions on actionable proposals, copies of which are being endorsed to you (ministries) separately," Lashari said.

Awan said his proposals had been endorsed by Gilani, who agreed to reject the proposal for amending the blasphemy law and to return the Interior Ministry`s proposal seeking a pardon for Asia Bibi while her appeal against her death sentence is pending in the Lahore High Court.

On Monday, Awan sent a note to the Prime Minister, "strongly advising" the premier against amending the blasphemy law or pardoning Asia Bibi.

Awan argued that the law with the death penalty for blasphemers, as interpreted by the Federal Shariah Court, was in consonance with Islamic injunctions as laid down in the Quran.

Regarding the pardon sought for Asia Bibi by the Interior Ministry, Awan wrote to the premier: "The Ministry of Interior is advised to follow the legal course of respecting the principle of re lis-pendens.

"No action is required by executive authorities as Asia Noreen had already sought herself legal remedy under section 410 of the Criminal Procedure Code 1898 by filing an appeal against her conviction," Awan said.

Referring to the Minority Affairs Ministry`s move to amend the blasphemy law, Awan wrote: "So far as the request made to the Prime Minister of Pakistan by the Ministry of Minorities which is also referred to the Law, Justice & Parliamentary Affairs Division to look into the reforms of blasphemy legislation as a matter of urgency is concerned, it has no substance. Therefore, no action is recommended".

Awan, in his note to the Prime Minister, also called for the rejection of Pakistan People`s Party lawmaker Sherry Rehman`s private bill seeking amendment of the blasphemy law.

He recommended: "The present private member`s bill as reported in the press stands verbally withdrawn by the member concerned too".

The blasphemy law had already been examined by the Federal Shariah Court, which decided that the legislative instrument was in "accordance with the injunctions of Islam" and that any "alternative punishment (is) repugnant to the injunctions of Islam," Awan wrote.

Awan further concluded that the death penalty for blasphemy is in accordance with the injunctions of Islam and "need not to be changed or amended".

The impression created by some people that Pakistan`s laws do not meet international standards of human rights "is totally baseless and ill-founded," he said.

The PPP-led government has backed down from a move to review the blasphemy law due to pressure from religious hardliners and extremist groups like the Jamaat-ud-Dawah, which have organised protests across the country over the past few weeks.

The hardliners have also praised a police guard who assassinated Punjab Governor Salmaan Taseer last month for opposing the controversial law.

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