Hopes for a reform of Pakistan’s blasphemy laws have diminished after the country’s law minister was forced to resign following a series of protests by Islamists. The minister, Zahid Hamid, was accused of blasphemy by the protestors, after a reference to the Prophet Muhammad was left out of an updated version of the electoral oath for MPs. He called it a clerical error.
The protests were led by Tehreek-e-Labail Pakistan (TLP), an Islamist political party that is opposed to any change to the blasphemy law and recently made significant gains in a by-election in Peshawar NA-4 district.
Religious minorities, including Christians, are quietly dismayed that the TLP has successfully made demands of the Government in a country already struggling to combat religious intolerance and violence.
Several thousand TLP members camped out and blocked roads in Islamabad during November to challenge the actions of the law minister and demand his resignation.
Even before he stood down, the Government had succumbed to pressure to give assurances that Asia Bibi, a Christian mother of five with a blasphemy conviction, will not be sent abroad.
The TLP grew in strength after the execution of Mumtaz Qadri, the elite force guard who murdered liberal governor Salmaan Taseer for speaking out against a death sentence on Asia Bibi. Pakistan’s blasphemy laws carry penalties ranging from life in prison to capital punishment and are often used to target minorities or settle personal feuds.
PICTURE: Activists hold a protest demonstration against blasphemy inRawalpindi, Pakistan, March 2017 ©PA