Brutal Assassination of Salman Taseer is Call to Abolish Pakistan's Blasphemy Laws

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It has been a bloody start to 2011 in Pakistan.  In the evening hours of Tuesday January 4, Salman Taseer the Governor of Punjab, the country’s largest province, was gunned down by his own bodyguard in Islamabad.

The brutal assassination came in the shadow of a country wide strike called by Pakistan’s religious parties against the Federal Government’s plan to amend Pakistan’s Blasphemy laws.  At the time of the assassination, Governor Taseer had been shopping at a market in Islamabad, when he was sprayed with over two dozen bullets, he died at the scene.

Pakistani policemen secure the site of a fatal attack on Salman Taseer by his bodyguard in Islamabad on January 4, 2011. Salman Taseer, outspoken against the Taliban and other Islamist militants was assassinated on January 4, apparently for opposing blasphemy laws. AAMIR QURESHI/AFP/Getty Images

Governor Salman Taseer had been at the center of the effort to amend the Blasphemy laws which currently allow those accused to be sentenced to death on shaky evidentiary grounds.

In recent months, Governor Taseer had spoken against the death sentence awarded to Asia Bibi, an illiterate Christian farmhand who had a spat with other village women while working in the fields. The women accused Asia Bibi of blasphemy and she was arrested and convicted based only on their testimony. Bibi remains on death row in Sheikhupura Jail in Punjab province where her life is under constant threat.

Governor Taseer not only visited Asia Bibi in prison, but initiated a national debate on the issue urging for amendments to the law that allow Pakistan’s poverty stricken and ghettoized religious minorities to be targeted under the pretext of committing blasphemy.

In recent years, Pakistan’s minorities have repeatedly been the subject of persecution and have not been provided protection by state authorities. In July of 2010, two brothers accused of blasphemy were gunned down as they were being brought to the courthouse for a hearing. In other cases, the law has been used to prosecute not simply non-Muslims but also Muslims who are accused of defaming religious texts or figures.

In an interview given to Pakistan’s Dawn television on November 29, 2010 Governor Taseer spoke out against the religious extremists and fundamentalists who were against the laws lamenting the misuse of Islam to pursue vendettas against minorities.  Governor Taseer was also the owner of a liberal newspaper The Daily Times that often published articles against the law.

Amnesty International has repeatedly asked the Government of Pakistan to abolish the Blasphemy Law and provide protection to Pakistan’s Shias, Ahmadis, Christians, Hindus Zoroastrians and other minorities. Section 295 ( c ) of the Pakistan Penal Code which mandates the death penalty for crimes of Blasphemy must urgently be repealed to prevent the further bullying of innocent Pakistani citizens at the hands of religious extremists.

After the tragic assassination of Governor Salman Taseer, a courageous and stalwart human rights defender, action against this draconian and ill drafted law has become an imperative that must be supported by all those committed to the cause of human rights.   The legacy of a man who refused to be silenced by the forces of religious extremism can only be respected if these laws are repealed.

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12 thoughts on “Brutal Assassination of Salman Taseer is Call to Abolish Pakistan's Blasphemy Laws

  1. There needs to be a move towards secular government in all countries, everywhere around the world. Religious leaders need to tone down the rhetoric and reach out to people of other faiths. Only then will incidents like this wane.

  2. Step back and look at the majority of world problems. Almost all of them are founded in the beliefs of ones religion over anothers belief… As soon as you can remove religion as a staple of world order, only then will you see a decline in terrorism, senseless hate crimes, and illegitimate laws that never should have been enacted in the first place.

  3. This man died a hero. I respect him. Why should people kill others to defend God? Has He not created man? Does God need us to defend Him? Muslims and Christians can talk peacefully about their differences and people the world over should be free to choose to have a religion or not.

  4. There needs to be a move towards secular government in all countries, everywhere around the world. Religious leaders need to tone down the rhetoric and reach out to people of other faiths. Only then will incidents like this wane.

  5. @Shawn – Really? I do suppose Mao, Stalin and Hitler were religious men? Oh right, they were atheist demagogues!

    The fact is that human beings will use and abuse any theory, idea, philosophy or religion to further their own agendas, whether the agenda is power, money, fame, regime change or what have you.

  6. Step back and look at the majority of world problems. Almost all of them are founded in the beliefs of ones religion over anothers belief… As soon as you can remove religion as a staple of world order, only then will you see a decline in terrorism, senseless hate crimes, and illegitimate laws that never should have been enacted in the first place.

  7. This man died a hero. I respect him. Why should people kill others to defend God? Has He not created man? Does God need us to defend Him? Muslims and Christians can talk peacefully about their differences and people the world over should be free to choose to have a religion or not.

  8. @Shawn – Really? I do suppose Mao, Stalin and Hitler were religious men? Oh right, they were atheist demagogues!

    The fact is that human beings will use and abuse any theory, idea, philosophy or religion to further their own agendas, whether the agenda is power, money, fame, regime change or what have you.

  9. At the heart of most religious and spiritual teachings are the twin credoes of tolerance and compassion for your fellow man. Until more of us actively practice achieving these high ideals by making some real and sustained changes in the way we think and act, we will be at the mercy of those who simply wish to hit out in anger, bitterness or through fear. Taseer stood tall, a man who knew his efforts at change put his very life on the line. The free world should thank him for such an act of fearlessness and his love of fairness and tolerance. Let us hope he has found his peace wherever he may now be, and that peace be embraced by all through the growth of tolerance and compassion for all mankind.

  10. At the heart of most religious and spiritual teachings are the twin credoes of tolerance and compassion for your fellow man. Until more of us actively practice achieving these high ideals by making some real and sustained changes in the way we think and act, we will be at the mercy of those who simply wish to hit out in anger, bitterness or through fear. Taseer stood tall, a man who knew his efforts at change put his very life on the line. The free world should thank him for such an act of fearlessness and his love of fairness and tolerance. Let us hope he has found his peace wherever he may now be, and that peace be embraced by all through the growth of tolerance and compassion for all mankind.

  11. I have for a long time tolerated the erroneous statements made by many that Islam is a religion of peace, tolerance and understanding. It is not ! it is a religion of violence,intolerance and ignorance.

  12. I have for a long time tolerated the erroneous statements made by many that Islam is a religion of peace, tolerance and understanding. It is not ! it is a religion of violence,intolerance and ignorance.