Pakistan Tourism Minister Fears For Her Life After Clerics Say She Sinned By Hugging Man

Sunday, April 15th 2007, 8:36 pm
By: News On 6

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan (AP) _ Pakistan's tourism minister says she fears for her life after clerics at a radical mosque issued an edict accusing her of sinning by hugging her French parachute jumping instructor, the state news agency reported.

Minister of Tourism Nilofar Bakhtiar told a parliamentary committee of her fear on Saturday following the Taliban-style edict against her by Islamic clerics at Lal Masjid, or Red Mosque, in Islamabad, the Associated Press of Pakistan reported.

Two clerics at the mosque said the hug was ``an illegitimate and forbidden act'' and ``without any doubt, she has committed a great sin.''

The clerics issued the edict against Bakhtiar last Sunday, demanding that she be dismissed, her family punish her and she be made to ask for forgiveness after pictures in the Pakistani media showed Bakhtiar hugging her parachute jumping instructor at a fundraising jump in France.

Hundreds of students from an Islamic seminary attached to the mosque have been running an anti-vice campaign in Islamabad, threatening music shops and brothels, in a bold challenge to President Gen. Pervez Musharraf, a U.S. ally who has pledged to promote moderate Islam.

The mosque's chief cleric, Maulana Abdul Aziz, is an outspoken critic of Pakistan's support of the U.S.-led war on terror.

About 100,000 people rallied in Karachi Sunday to protest the seminary's anti-vice campaign. The mass protest was organized by the Mutahida Qami Movement, or MQM, a party based in the southern port city that strongly supports Musharraf.

``Islam is a religion of peace and there is no place in it for using force or terrorism,'' said MQM leader Altaf Hussain, who addressed the rally on loudspeakers by telephone from London.

A Karachi police official, Mazhar Hussain, said about 100,000 people attended the rally, with many chanting, ``No to extremism!''

Bakhtiar rejected the mosque's edict last week, saying she had only received a pat from her instructor for her jump in France last month to raise money for victims of a devastating earthquake in Pakistan in 2005.

Bakhtiar was not immediately available for comment on Sunday.

``I have strengthened my security after the fatwa (edict) from the so-called Shariat court and the killing of Punjab provincial minister Zil-e-Huma,'' APP quoted Bakhtiar as saying, referring to the shooting death in February of a female provincial official by a man who told police he was opposed to women holding high offices.

Last month, an anti-terrorism court sentenced to death the man who attacked Zil-e-Huma Usman, who was minister for social welfare in Punjab province.