Opposition cries foul at blasphemy sentence

Published March 29, 2014
— File photo
— File photo

ISLAMABAD: Two main opposition parties in the National Assembly protested on Friday against a death sentence passed on Thursday by a Lahore court against a Christian man before the uproar was cut short by the deputy speaker belonging to the ruling party.

Shirin Mazari of the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) and then Shazia Marri of the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) complained of persecution of minority communities in the country, particularly on trumped up blasphemy charges as, they alleged, had happened in Lahore a year ago when more than 3,000 people rampaged through a Christian colony and burned some 100 homes after a Christian was accused by a Muslim friend of committing blasphemy during a conversation.

After lawmakers of the two parties seemed unconvinced by a statement by the ruling Pakistan Muslim League-N’s young member Hamza Shahbaz Sharif, son of Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif, about the concern showed by the provincial administration over the March 7, 2013 incident and help given to the sufferers of the Joseph Colony neighbourhood, Deputy Speaker Murtaza Javed Abbasi disallowed any more discussion on the Lahore court verdict before adjourning the house.

The convict, Sawan Masih, who heard the sentence of death and a fine of Rs200,000 inside a jail, has claimed innocence and cited a property dispute with his friend as the real reason for the blasphemy allegation.

Ms Mazari called it a travesty of justice that people who burned the colony in Lahore were released on bail while one man tried for a disputed charge had been sentence to death as she also spoke of persecution of minorities in general such as kidnapping of members of Hindu community in Sindh and blasphemy charges brought against Christians mostly in Punjab.

She kept on agitating the issue even after the deputy speaker tried to restrain her, disputing his choice of words in calling the case sub judice even after an additional district and sessions judge, Chaudhry Ghulam Mustaf, delivered his verdict on Thursday and while an appeal to a higher court was yet to be made.

“We are disappointed, we are disturbed,” yelled Ms Marri, before she saw her mike switched off, and then restored briefly, before the chair gave the floor to Mr Hamza Sharif to recall his father’s orders after the incident to rebuild the destroyed Christian homes “within one night” and compensate the sufferers even for losses of jewellery made for weddings, and to assure the house that those responsible for the attack would be brought to justice.

But members of the PPP and PTI seemed unsatisfied and several of them stood up in their seats apparently preparing for a protest walkout while the floor was given to a Jamaat-i-Islami member, Sher Akbar Khan, the chair cited little time left for the Friday prayers to immediately adjourn the house for a two-day weekend until 4pm on Monday.

Earlier in the day, Parliamentary Secretary for Finance Rana Mohammad Afzal told the house in response to a call-attention notice from five opposition members that the government at the time was not in violation of the Fiscal Responsibility and Debt Limitation Act, 2005 debt limit of 60 per cent of the gross domestic product as the latest figure of Dec 31, 2013, put it at 58.6 per cent compared to 62.7 per cent inherited by the present government and even less than a target of 61.3 per cent set for its first budget.

He said the debt to GDP ratio could be even less if the recent receipt of $1.5 billion “friendly gift” from an unspecified country, but most probably from Saudi Arabia, and appreciation of the rupee against the US dollar were taken into account.

The violation of the 2005 act had been continuing over several years, he said, but the present government had been able to arrest this trend, rejecting a challenge from a PTI lawmaker, Asad Umar, that the parliamentary secretary had been misled by the Federal Board of Revenue.

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