PAKISTAN: Governor of Punjab assassinated after speaking out on blasphemy Laws

Salman Taseer

The governor of Pakistan’s Punjab province, Salman Taseer (pictured), was shot dead today (4 January) by one of his own guards, elite security force protector, Malik Mumtaz Hussain Qadri.

Governor Taseer was shot while leaving his car near a shopping centre in Islamabad, the capital of Pakistan. The killer was taken into custody by the police on the spot and police also arrested six more people in connection with the crime. Around 4 pm local time, the assassin fired nine bullets into Taseer’s stomach, chest, neck and face. Governor Taseer died on the spot.

Qadri said in his initial statement that he killed the governor because of his views on Islamic blasphemy laws and because he had visited Christian woman, Asia Bibi, an alleged blasphemer, in jail and declared her innocent.

On 8 November 2010, Asia Bibi (45) and a resident of the village of Ittawali in Punjab province, was sentenced to death by a Pakistani court for allegedly defaming the Prophet Muhammad under blasphemy law Section 295-C of Pakistan Penal Code.

Governor Taseer visited Asia Bibi on 20 November in jail and arranged for her to sign an appeal for clemency which he later presented to President Asif Ali Zardari. Governor Taseer was outspoken on the blasphemy laws and called them “black laws”. Islamic religious groups condemned Taseer and demanded his immediate removal as governor. In addition, a fundamentalist Islamic party issued an apostasy decree against Governor Taseer but the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) rejected this decree and condemned the move against the governor.

Effigies of Mr. Taseer were burned in countrywide protests last Friday (31 December) when a strike by Islamist parties, seeking to head off any change in the blasphemy law, brought Pakistan to a standstill. Thousands of people took to the streets and forced businesses to close.

Governor Taseer’s murder is the first high-profile murder in relation to the blasphemy laws in Pakistan. He was a member of Benazir Bhutto’s Pakistan People’s Party and a close comrade of President Asif Ali Zardari, Bhutto’s widower.

Salman Taseer was appointed governor of Punjab on 15 May 2008. Punjab is Pakistan’s most populous province, with a population of over 100 million – about 56% of the country’s total population. Over 3.5 million Christians – about 80 per cent of Pakistan’s Christian population – live in Punjab. (Minorities Concern of Pakistan, New York Times)