This is a shocking and ominous development in Pakistan. Increasing calls from outside Pakistan for reform of blasphemy laws and the release of Asia Bibi has been met with a rise in violence from far right Islamic forces.
Islamabad, Pakistan (CNN) — The governor of Pakistan’s Punjab province, Salman Taseer, was assassinated by his own security guard Tuesday, according to Interior Minister Rehman Malik, apparently because he spoke out against the country’s controversial blasphemy law.
The security guard was arrested, Malik said. The shooting occurred at Islamabad’s Kohsar Market, which is frequented by foreigners.
Taseer went into the market to make some purchases, and he was shot by his guard as he left, said Naeem Iqbal, spokesman for Islamabad police. He was taken to a hospital, where he died, apparently from blood loss.
Malik told Pakistan’s GEO TV that Taseer was assassinated because he spoke out against Pakistan’s blasphemy law.
A spotlight was put on the law in November when a Christian woman, Asia Bibi of Punjab province, was sentenced to death for blasphemy. A court found the 45-year-old woman guilty of defiling the name of the Prophet Mohammed during a 2009 argument with fellow Muslim field workers.
When I spoke recently with Raza Anjum, UK city official now in Pakistan trying to win the release of Asia Bibi, he told me that Taseer was a fair man who saw the injustice being done in the name of Islam. He spoke out in her favor and worked to get a fair hearing for her case. For that reason, he was under constant threat.
Pakistan is no stranger to such violence but the issues surrounding the blasphemy laws appear to be giving extremists a rallying cry for opposition to moderate elements. The government recently demonstrated weakness by backing away from a bill that would reform the blasphemy laws. It shows no signs of an effective response to the far right.
I will be adding updates and information as I get it. Here is an interview with Taseer about why he took up Asia Bibi’s cause. Note his confidence in the ruling party. This was before the party began to capitulate to extremists.