ISLAMABAD, Sept 19: A meeting of the federal cabinet was converted into a special sitting on Wednesday to condemn the anti-Islam film which hurt the sentiments of people across the Muslim world and set off violent demonstrations in the country.
Instead of taking up the scheduled 14-point agenda, the cabinet unanimously adopted a resolution condemning the highly objectionable film and calling upon international organisations, including the United Nations and the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), to take measures to stop hate-mongers from touching such sensitive subjects.
The cabinet announced Friday would be a national holiday, designating the day as Yaum-i-Ishq-i-Rasool. It urged President Asif Ali Zardari to raise the issue at the UN General Assembly during his visit next week.
Addressing a press conference after the meeting, Information Minister Qamar Zaman Kaira said that since the film was too big an issue to ignore, Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf had decided to convert the session into a special sitting to “send a collective message across the world that we strongly protest any such attempt to denigrate our religion”.
He said Shan-i-Rasool (PBUH) conferences would be organised at the federal and provincial levels on Friday. The prime minister will address the conference at the Convention Centre in Islamabad.
In reply to a question, Mr Kaira said the holiday had been declared to facilitate people to participate in rallies to be organised across the country. He requested the masses to remain peaceful.
Some critics, however, are not happy with the government’s decision to declare Friday as a national holiday. They are of the opinion that it will encourage people to participate in demonstrations which may turn violent.
A participant of the meeting told Dawn that it was Interior Minister Rehman Malik who had made the proposal to declare Friday as a holiday.
Mr Malik was of the opinion that since massive demonstrations had been planned by religious organisations for Friday, protesters might turn violent and damage private and public properties. Therefore, he suggested, it was better to have a holiday to minimise the chances of loot and arson, according to the participant.
Mr Kaira said the cabinet had asked the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority to hammer out agreements with websites like YouTube so that in future such sacrilegious material was filtered out.
He said the government had to ban YouTube after it expressed its inability to block the controversial video clip in the absence of an agreement between it and the government of Pakistan.
But, he said, morally it was a responsibility of the government of the country where this movie was screened and then uploaded to take action against the culprits.
“Being a democratic country, Pakistan strongly supports freedom of speech and expression, but there should be certain red lines which people should not be allowed to cross, as was done in the case of this film,” the minister said.
In reply to a question about the factory fires which had claimed the lives of hundreds of workers in Lahore and Karachi, Mr Kaira said that since it was a provincial subject, the federal government could only provide assistance sought by the provincial authorities.