On Babar Awan’s statement on the blasphemy law

Ansar Abbasi and various of his friends and followers in Pakistn’s mainstream and alternative media have recently mentioned Babar Awan’s statement on the blasphemy law. According to the original article by Ansar Abbasi published in The News, the statement was made to “a senior member of jang group”. Therefore, there are some serious doubts about the veracity of this news item.

We have previously criticized Babar Awan, and are happy to do so again, only if the news came from a reliable source, which in the current instance, is not the case. Therfore, we suggest that those who are building their case against Awan on a statement by Ansar Abbasi should pause and reflect.

Having said that we express our full support to the proposed bill (co-drafted by Sherry Rehman) to amend the blasphemy law in Pakistan.

Here is an excellent analysis of Ansar Abbasi’s column by Pakistan Media Watch.

Cross-posted from Pakistan Media Watch

Blasphemy and Opportunism
Ansar Abbasi’s column of 26 November is a curious piece of work. He begins by reporting some statements of Law Minister Babar Awan about repeal of the blasphemy law. According to Ansar Abbasi, the esteemed minister has said that he opposed repeal of the law and that no one should think of repealing it while he is in office.

Abbasi then observes that this is a difference in opinion between Babar Awan and Salmaan Taseer, the latter favouring release of Asia Masih – the Christian woman who was recently sentenced under the controversial law. Because these two politicians of the same political party disagree on the issue, Ansar Abbasi claims that “it shows serious cracks within the ruling elite about its policy on the blasphemy law.”

This was the first item that raised my eyebrows. Actually, two officials having a disagreement on an issue is quite common, is it not? Especially when these two men are not even part of the same government – Babar Awan is a federal minister and Salmaan Taseer is a provincial governor – how is it some evidence of cracks within ‘the ruling elite’? And who exactly does Abbasi mean when he says ‘ruling elite’? Surely Mian Nawaz Sharif and Altaf Hussain must be considered members of the ‘ruling elite’ and they disagree with President Zardari and each other seemingly every day! It seems that Ansar Abbasi has thrown in this bit of his opinion in order to take a swipe at the governing political party and not due to any substance.

This possibility is made even more probable once the reader continues through the final paragraphs of Ansar Abbasi’s column. Here, he deviates from the topic of Babar Awan’s statements and begins listing a series of accusations against the minister as if to soil his name only. Ansar Abbasi mentions Harris Steel Mill case and Monticello University, neither of which have anything to do with the blasphemy law. He then goes on to say, “Babar Awan is also generally believed as the man responsible for the government’s confrontational mode with the judiciary.” Really? This is ‘generally believed’? And what evidence does Ansar Abbasi base this claim on? Has he done some polling of the nation? And even if it were true, what would it have to do with the blasphemy law? Perhaps this is only another instance of Ansar Abbasi being both source and reporter.

The statements of a minister on a controversial law such as the blasphemy laws adopted under General Zia are important news items to be reported. The people should be aware of what their government officials are saying on important topics. But Ansar Abbasi’s practise of infusing his own opinions and adding paragraphs about unrelated scandals reeks of political opportunism, not journalism. Please, Mr Ansar Abbasi, stick to the facts.



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