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PPP leader withdraws bill to amend blasphemy law

Islamabad: Facing death threats from extremist elements, senior Pakistan People`s Party leader Sherry Rehman has withdrawn from Parliament a bill aimed at amending the controversial blasphemy law through elimination of the mandatory capital punishment under it.

Rehman has withdrawn the private member`s bill, which she had submitted in the National Assembly or Parliament`s lower house for amending the blasphemy law last year.

Her decision came after Premier Yousuf Raza Gilani made it clear that his government has no plans to amend the law.

Gilani, during a meeting with a delegation of parliamentarians, announced that Rehman, also former information minister, had "agreed to withdraw her bill" in keeping with the PPP`s policy.

Rehman said she would abide by decisions made by the Prime Minister and the PPP on the issue.

In a statement, she said that "had it (the bill) appeared on the (Parliament`s) agenda, perhaps some of our colleagues would have understood that it was not suggesting repeal of the law, but protecting our Holy Prophet`s name against injustices done via procedures introduced by (late military dictator) Zia-ul-Haq."

"No Muslim would expect not to protect the Holy Prophet`s name, and no Pakistani would ever suggest anything other than that," she said.

Rehman said the changes she had suggested in the blasphemy law "were simple: that people be given a chance to prove their innocence like in all laws, and that cases be tried at the higher courts, that penalties be given according to the Quran, and that no one who makes false charges in the name of the Holy Prophet… goes unpunished."

Gilani, earlier at the meeting, made it clear that his government "has no intention to amend the law." He also asked religious parties to help authorities in framing policies to check the law`s misuse.

After a court in Punjab sentenced a Christian woman to death last year for allegedly insulting the Prophet Mohammed, President Asif Ali Zardari asked Minority Affairs Minister Shahbaz Bhatti to head a committee of religious scholars and clerics to find ways to prevent misuse of the blasphemy law.

At about the same time, Rehman, who has received death threats from extremist groups, had submitted the private member`s bill in National Assembly to amend the law by removing the mandatory death sentence.

Rehman, whose relations with top PPP leadership are strained, did not receive much support for the move from the party.

After outspoken Punjab Governor Salmaan Taseer was assassinated by his police guard last month for opposing the blasphemy law, Rehman was even advised by friends and supporters to leave Pakistan.

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