Lahore: The Speaker of Pakistan`s Punjab
legislative assembly barred a lawmaker from a minority
community from speaking on the issue of a Christian woman
sentenced to death on charges of blasphemy, prompting other
minority legislators to walk out of the House.
Joel Amir Sahutra raised a point of order in the
assembly yesterday evening, saying that he wanted to speak
about the case of Asia Bibi, a 45-year-old mother of five who
was sentenced to death after being convicted under a
controversial blasphemy law.
Speaker Rana Iqbal Ahmed refused to allow Sahutra to
speak on the issue, describing it as "sensitive".
Protesting against the Speaker`s attitude, legislators
belonging to minority communities walked out of the House.
However, when Ali Haider Noor Niazi of the Jamiat
Ulema-e-Pakistan party began speaking emotionally on the same
issue, the Speaker did not stop him.
Niazi began shouting within the assembly as he
criticised those who were trying to defend the woman.
Niazi criticised Punjab Governor Salmaan Taseer for
raising his voice in favour of Asia Bibi.
"The Governor has no right to make efforts for Asia`s
pardon," he said.
Niazi was also of the view that those demanding the
woman`s release are "blasphemers".
Describing Niazi`s remarks as "irresponsible," Labour
Minister Ashraf Sohna told the Speaker that the legislator`s
comments were unwarranted.
Several women legislatures also protested against
Acting on a request from Pakistan People`s Party
lawmaker Sajida Mir, the Speaker sent two members to bring the
minority legislators back to the House.
Though they ended their boycott of the proceedings,
the minority lawmakers submitted a resolution to the assembly
secretariat in which they demanded the formation of a judicial
commission to investigate all cases registered under the
The resolution also demanded the framing of a new law
to stop misuse of the blasphemy laws.
Since a lower court in Punjab awarded the death
sentence to Asia Bibi last month for committing blasphemy,
there have been protests by right wing and religious parties
against efforts to urge the President to grant her a pardon.
Religious parties have also organised rallies and
demonstrations to protest moves to amend the blasphemy law. The protestors criticised Governor Taseer and Supreme
Court Bar Association president Asma Jahangir for taking up
Asia Bibi`s case and allegedly "hurting the feelings of the
The Tehrik Hurmat-e-Rasool, which has close links to
the Jamaat-ud-Dawa, and the Jamaat-e-Islami were among the
groups that have organised protests in Lahore.
Their leaders warned the PPP-led government against
following in the footsteps of former army ruler Pervez
Musharraf on the sensitive issue of blasphemy laws.
In Peshawar, an imam of a 17th century mosque
yesterday offered a reward of Rs 5 lakhs to any person who
killed Asia Bibi.
Maulana Yousaf Qureshi told a rally that if the
Christian woman was not hanged, he would ask the "mujahideen
and the Taliban to kill her".
He also said he would resist any attempt to repeal the