Pak Envoy to US Faces Blasphemy Charge

M Zulqernain/Lahore
Pak Envoy to US Faces Blasphemy Charge
A case of blasphemy has been registered against Pakistan's ambassador to the US, Sherry Rehman over her remarks on a TV show, a charge that carries the death penalty.

Police in Multan city of Punjab province registered the case over remarks purportedly made by Rehman on a TV talk show in 2010.

They were acting on a complaint against Rehman by businessman Fahim Akhtar Gill, who claimed her remarks about the country's blasphemy law were blasphemous.

The 31-year-old businessman had earlier filed a petition on the issue in the Supreme Court, which directed police to act according to the law.

The case against Rehman was filed under Section 295-C of Pakistan Penal Code, which carries the death penalty.

Gill told PTI that he had obtained an edict against Rehman from clerics of four schools of Islamic thought and attached it to his petition submitted in the apex court.

"Sherry Rehman had mocked the Prophet's sayings and this cannot be tolerated," he said.

In his petition, Gill further contended that Rehman had spoken against the Hadith, or sayings of the Prophet Mohammed, during her appearance on a show aired on Dunya news channel on November 30, 2010.

Gill claimed that after the registration of the case at Cheylak police station in Multan, Rehman might not return to Pakistan.

Regional police chief Amir Zulifqar constituted a three-member team to investigate the matter.

Police officials said they had received a video of the TV talk show and two witnesses – Abdul Qayyum and Shakil Ahmed – had come forward to record their statements.

Earlier, police in Multan had refused to entertain

Gill's complaint against Rehman, a former federal minister and a senior leader of the ruling Pakistan People's Party.

Gill then approached the Lahore High Court, which asked him to file a complaint in a police station in Islamabad.

Subsequently, Gill filed a petition in the apex court.

In late 2010, Rehman had faced death threats from militant groups for calling for changes in the blasphemy law.

She was forced by the PPP to drop a plan to move a bill in parliament to abolish the death penalty for blasphemy.

Rehman, a former aide of President Asif Ali Zardari, was appointed ambassador to the US in November 2011.

The allegation against Rehman is the latest in a series of controversial blasphemy cases in Pakistan.

Rights groups have said the blasphemy law is often misused to persecute minorities like Christians and to settle personal scores.

Punjab Governor Salmaan Taseer and Minority Affairs Minister Shahbaz Bhatti, a Christian, were assassinated in 2011 shortly after they called for reforms in the blasphemy law.

Under the law, anyone found guilty of uttering derogatory remarks about the Prophet Muhammad can be sentenced to death.

In several recent cases, persons accused of blasphemy were lynched by violent mobs.

Last year, a Christian girl named Rimsha Masih was arrested after a Muslim cleric falsely accused her of burning pages of the Quran.

Masih was later cleared by a court but she and her family were forced to go into hiding after being threatened by extremist groups.
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