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CPJ concerned for safety of journalist Sherry Rehman, prominent supporter of new blasphemy law

(CPJ/IFEX) - New York, January 12, 2011 - The Committee to Protect Journalists is greatly concerned about public threats made against journalist and National Assembly member Sherry Rehman. The government has stepped up protection for Rehman after she supported a bill in the National Assembly that would amend Pakistan's blasphemy law. The changes include the repeal of the law's mandatory death penalty.

"Sherry Rehman's life straddles the worlds of journalism and politics like few others in Pakistan. Even with the government's increased protection, she remains at great risk, and we remain greatly concerned about the safety of our colleague," said Bob Dietz, CPJ's Asia program coordinator.

Rehman, who worked for 10 years as editor-in-chief of The Herald newsmagazine, has continued to write widely about the blasphemy law and other social issues in Pakistan. She has written frequent commentaries and appeared on numerous television news shows, speaking out for reform. Rehman served as minister for information and broadcasting under Prime Minister Yusuf Gilani but resigned to protest the government's closure of a private television network.

The new threats against Rehman have been widely reported in Pakistan's media. In a sermon delivered during afternoon prayers on Friday, a leader of Karachi's Sultan Mosque said Rehman deserved to be killed for her role in introducing the blasphemy bill in the National Assembly. Around the same time, the conservative religious organization Tanzeem-e-Islami distributed pamphlets charging Rehman with having "provoked the religious honor of Pakistan's Muslims."

Local and international media reports say the number of police officers assigned to guard Rehman's home in Karachi has been increased. The threats are considered to be serious, following the assassination of Punjab Gov. Salmaan Taseer for his opposition to the current blasphemy law. Taseer was shot in a market in Islamabad on January 4 by one of his guards, who testified at his pretrial hearing that he was angered by the governor's stance on the law. According to local and international media reports, tens of thousands of Pakistanis marched in cities across the country to express support for the bodyguard, 26-year-old Mumtaz Qadri.

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