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August 19, 2017
In Pakistan, mass arrests halt rally backing blasphemy law
Sunni Tehreek supporters protest in favor of Mumtaz Qadri, convicted killer of Salmaan Taseer, during a rally at Mall road in Lahore, Oct. 1, 2011. Credit: Asianet-Pakistan/Shutterstock.
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.- Supporters of Pakistan’s strict blasphemy law attempted to march in Lahore on Wednesday, but were thwarted when police made more than 150 arrests.

The nation's blasphemy laws impose strict punishment on those who desecrate the Quran or who defame or insult Muhammad.

The Jan. 4 demonstrations would have fallen on the sixth anniversary of the 2011 assassination of Punjab governor Salmaan Taseer, a prominent advocate of changing the strict blasphemy law. He was killed by his own security guard, Mumtaz Qadri, for his stance on the law.

Some backers of the strict anti-blasphemy law consider Qadri a hero.

Protesters from several religious parties had planned the march in the capital of Punjab province. The arrested were members of the Islamist coalition Tehreek-i-Labaik Ya Rasool Allah.

Authorities said that more arrests would be made and no one had permission to hold a rally in Lahore, the Pakistani newspaper Dawn reports.

Police barricades set up to prevent the march caused severe traffic jams.

Other protests had been planned in Rawalpindi.

Taseer’s assassination was followed by the March 2, 2011 assassination of Shahbaz Bhatti, another critic of the misuse of the blasphemy law.

Bhatti, a Catholic and the only Christian in the Pakistani cabinet, worked as the federal minister for minorities and spoke out against religious persecution.

A Pakistani Catholic diocese has opened an inquiry into whether to declare him a martyr.

Pakistan's state religion is Islam, and around 97 percent of the population is Muslim.

The blasphemy laws are said to be often used to settle scores or to persecute religious minorities: though non-Muslims constitute only three percent of the Pakistani population, 14 percent of blasphemy cases have been levied against them.

Many of those accused of blasphemy are murdered, and advocates of changing the law, such as Taseer, are targeted by violence.