Another Country, Another Assassination

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It has been a week of tragic political violence in the United States, and as we collectively mourn our fellow citizens and brave public servants at home, it is sad but timely to recall that in another world the reaction to another assassination has been very different.

Salman Taseer, the Governor of Punjab was assassinated a week ago at the hands of his own bodyguard, in broad daylight, at Khosar market in Islamabad, a place popular with expats and elites.  He was shot more than 20 times at close range, for the crime of defending a woman who was convicted under Pakistan’s blasphemy laws.

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

Taseer, a progressive thoughtful voice for reform, of the Pakistan People’s Party, had filed a petition in defense of a Christian woman, Asia Bibi, who has been condemned to death for blasphemy, in a case that has sparked international controversy.  Salman Taseer had also defended the rights of Pakistan’s Ahmadi community, who are ruled to be non Muslims, and spoke out against the misuse of the Constitution to persecute minorities.

It is a sad and disturbing comment on the current state of Pakistan that he died at the hands of those who were sent to protect him.  It was shocking that arguably one of the most prominent politicians in the most prominent of states – Punjab, could be shot dead.

But the reaction in the wake of his death has been equally chilling.  The Barelevi party, Jamaat Ahle Sunnat, issued a statement celebrating the killing and warning Pakistanis not to mourn Taseer’s death.  And while thousands attended his funeral, the fear of violence was strong enough to keep President Asif Ali Zadari, from paying tribute, and public sentiment was strong enough to keep others like Nawaz Sharif from attending.

By contrast the 26 year old killer, Malik Mumtaz Qadri, was showered with petals, and feted by many members of the Lawyers Movement who had challenged the government of President Musharaf in 2007, and many others offered to defend him free of charge.

Acts of madmen do not speak for average Pakistanis anymore than they speak for average Americans.  But as we honor the memory of Martin Luther King this weekend, and honor his legacy, we would do well to remember that human rights are still proclaimed at great sacrifice by people across the world in large acts and small in an unending tribute to reaffirm our common humanity.

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.

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