Pakistan MP drops effort to repeal blasphemy laws

Supporters of Pakistani religious parties take part in a rally to protest against any attempt to modify the blasphemy laws Many in Pakistan are opposed to any effort to alter the blasphemy laws

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A Pakistani politician has dropped her attempt to amend the country's controversial blasphemy laws, accusing her party of appeasing extremists.

Pakistan People's Party MP Sherry Rehman made her decision after the government ruled out changing the law.

Correspondents say Ms Rehman is one of only a few politicians prepared to speak out on the blasphemy law.

They say there has been a climate of fear since the murder of Punjab governor Salman Taseer who opposed it.

Mr Taseer was killed in January by one of his bodyguards, who later admitted murdering the governor because he had spoken out against the blasphemy law.

Hundreds of people are in prison on charges under the law. Critics say it has been used to persecute minority faiths and is sometimes exploited by people pursuing grudges against others.

It has been under scrutiny since a Christian, Asia Bibi, was sentenced to death in November. Ms Bibi denies insulting the Prophet Muhammad in her Punjab village in June 2009.

'Blow-back'

Ms Rehman told the BBC in January that she received death threats every half hour, but would defy them.

However, in a statement received by the BBC on Thursday, she said she would not be proceeding with her proposed bill following remarks by Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani earlier in the week.

"Since the PM announced that there cannot even be discussion on procedural amendments, and the committee announced by the party to amend the laws has been disbanded, then as a PPP representative I had no option but to abide by the party's decision in parliament.

She added: "Appeasement of extremism is a policy that will have its blow-back."

Sherry Rehman

Mr Gilani had said that no amendment in the law could be considered. He also disbanded a committee set up to determine how to amend the laws.

The BBC's Syed Shoaib Hasan in Karachi says politicians in Pakistan are increasingly reluctant to amend the law - many are afraid of being targeted in the way Mr Taseer was.

He says Ms Rehman's courageous stance against what is seen by some experts as a flawed law has few public supporters.

Ms Rehman stressed that she had not agreed to "withdraw" her private member's bill.

"There was never any question of withdrawing the bill as the Speaker had never admitted it on the agenda," she said.

Ms Rehman added that if the Speaker had allowed her bill "perhaps some of our colleagues would have understood that it was not suggesting total repeal of the law, but protecting our great Prophet's name against injustices done via procedures introduced by [former President] Zia ul-Haq.

"It was a question of protecting our citizens from injustice done in the name of a religion that values peace and tolerance more than anything else," she said.

Her statement came as Human Rights Watch urged the government to release a boy of 17 who is under arrest in Pakistan, accused of blaspheming against the Prophet Muhammad in a high school exam.

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