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Pakistanis Rally in Support of Blasphemy Law

Thanks to Derek for the link

Thousands demonstrated in Karachi and elsewhere on Friday to demand that Pakistan’s blasphemy law remain intact.

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — A crippling strike by Islamist parties brought Pakistan to a standstill on Friday as thousands of people took to the streets, and forced businesses to close, to head off any change in the country’s blasphemy law, which rights groups say has been used to persecute minorities, especially Christians.

The law was introduced in the 1980s under the military dictatorship of Gen. Mohammad Zia ul-Haq as part of a policy of promoting Islam to unite this deeply fractious society. Many attempts to revise the law have since been thwarted by the strong opposition of religious forces, which continue to gather strength.

In fiery speeches across all major cities and towns, religious leaders warned the government on Friday against altering the law, which carries a mandatory death sentence for anyone convicted of insulting Islam.

“The president and prime minister should take the nation into confidence and assure in unequivocal terms that there will be no change in the blasphemy law under any international pressure,” Sahibzada Fazal Kareem, a religious leader and member of Parliament, said at a rally in the southern port city of Karachi, where the police fired tear gas to stop protesters from marching toward Bilawal House, one of the residences of President Asif Ali Zardari.

The governing Pakistan Peoples Party, which is struggling to keep its government coalition intact, has been conciliatory on the issue.

Syed Sumsam Ali Bokhari, the minister for information, tried to placate religious forces by assuring them that the government did not intend to amend or repeal the law. “Neither the Pakistan Peoples Party nor the government has discussed the issue to bring any amendment in the blasphemy law,” Mr. Bokhari said Thursday at a news briefing.

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