Muslim Pakistani governor assassinated for slamming blasphemy law
Muslim moderate Salman Taseer was one of the few to voice the will of Pakistan’s majority against terrorism, and he was assassinated recently because of it.
Described by The Guardian as “a pugnacious son of the soil,” Taseer, who governed Punjab, was riddled by one of his own armed guards with 26 bullets. The rest of his security didn’t even try to shoot the killer. Under interrogation assassin Malik Mumtaz Hussain Qadri said, “This is the punishment for a blasphemer,” TIME reported.
Taseer was the most prominent supporter of Asia Bibi, the first Christian woman to be handed a death sentence for blasphemy. On Nov. 8, the same date that President Asif Ali Zardar said he may pardon Bibi if she is convicted, Taseer went with his wife and daughter to visit the Christian woman in jail and voiced his support, The Guardian said.
Days later extremists rallied outside Taseer’s Lahore home and issued fatwas on him. On Nov. 29 the Lahore high court ruled that Zardari could not issue a presidential pardon for Bibi. Taseer’s own party leaders abandoned him. In November, Taseer told BBC News he believed Pakistanis are basically humane people, noting that religious parties have never done well in elections. “I feel the Pakistan we want is a more progressive and liberal Pakistan.” But by Jan. 1 he knew he stood alone, and in a TV show he said his support of Bibi was a “personal decision. If I do not stand by my conscience, then who will?” The Guardian reported.
Under the blasphemy law, “no proof is required,” The Guardian said. In fact, in the case of Asia Bibi, none of those who accused her have repeated what they claimed she said. If they do, it is blasphemy, so Bibi is being punished without any cross examination of her accusers. If the court upholds the conviction, she will be the first woman in Pakistan to be hanged for blasphemy.
Oftentimes, the blasphemy law is used to settle personal scores and to justify persecution against Christian minorities (see http://theundergroundsite.com/index.php/2010/08/human-rights-groups-seek-repeal-of-pakistan%e2%80%99s-blasphemy-law-13356).
A government official told Mission Network News, “It is horrible to imagine the kind of social situation that would justify or at least give an excuse to an extremist in the very bodyguard of the governor of the state of Punjab, to assassinate him on the basis of the governor’s opposition to these blasphemy laws.”
Taseer’s death led to cheers and celebration by extremists who showered the killer with petals and cheered as he was brought to court. But BBC News said that in Kohsar Market, a quiet candlelit vigil took place by those who mourned. One man said, “It is a very, very shocking incident. I would say it’s an eye-opener for the mainstream political parties. They should close ranks and deny religious parties the space they have which fuels a lot of radical people like the person who killed Salman Taseer.”
A woman at the vigil told BBC News, “We are small in numbers when we speak against all this extremism that’s going on. There are many people who will not come out because they’re afraid. My children want to go abroad rather than be suppressed in this manner.”
It wasn’t just the blasphemy law that Taseer stood up against. The Pakistan Christian Post published a letter from a supporter who wrote, “Taseer was the only person who had the courage to visit Ahmadiyya Mosques after terrorist attacks back in May 2010.” The year before, TIME reported that he was among the first to visit a Christian colony after terrorists torched buildings and went from house to house opening fire on the occupants.
Taseer’s body was carried by helicopter from his home to his gravesite a short distance away, to avoid possible disturbance from another extremist, The Guardian said. His three sons waited and they threw rose petals as his coffin was lowered. Conspicuously absent was the opposition Pakistan Muslim League-N party, as Barelvi mullahs decreed that sympathizers could face death. At the same time, a number of members of Taseer’s ruling Pakistan People’s Party have moved to the religious right.
Liberals face grave danger. Sherry Rehman, the female legislator who initiated the parliamentary bill to reform the blasphemy law, has been hiding from public view of late and has been advised by supporters to leave the country. Punjab, the wealthy province that Taseer governed, is home to many extremists that the Pakistan army uses to fight Indian soldiers in Kashmir, The Guardian said, quoting Wikileaks.
The day before he died, Taseer sent out a twitter message, “I was under huge pressure sure 2 cow down b4 rightest pressure on blasphemy. Refused. Even if I’m the last man standing,” The Pakistan Christian Post reported.