As is being widely reported, the governor of Pakistan’s Punjab province, Salman Taseer, was assasinated earlier today by his own security guard. The guard apparently heeded the fatwa issued by Islamic extremists who were angry about Taseer’s advocacy for Asia Bibi, a Christian mother of five who was recently sentenced to death for allegedly insulting Islam. Taseer had petitioned the government for her pardon.
Over the past several weeks, I have had contact with Raza Anjum, a city Councillor from the UK, who is in Pakistan trying to win freedom for Asia Bibi. Just hours after the shooting, Anjum (on left below) issued a statement describing a meeting he had with Governor Taseer less than a week ago. In that meeting, Taseer (on the right in the picture below) said that a fatwa had been issued on him due to his support for Asia Bibi and his opposition to the nation’s blasphemy laws.
Anjum said that Taseer spoke strongly against religious extremism, saying that “one needs to be determined and brave in standing up for human rights,” adding that “the extremists aim to install fear in the minds of the people.” According to Anjum, Taseer said he was “prepared to stand up to them to help bring about a progressive and peaceful Pakistan.”
That peaceful Pakistan now seems elusive.
On New Year’s Eve, thousands went on strike warning of violence if the government amended the blasphemy laws or freed Asia Bibi. On Sunday, the second largest political party in Pakistan pulled out of the coalition goverment citing corruption and economic differences.
About the tragedy, Anjum said, “The assassination of Salman Taseer is a huge blow to all those who are working for an enlightened and progressive Pakistan. His death has left the country in shock at a time when it faces an imminent political crisis.”
On Taseer’s Twitter page, an associate posted “R.I.P. Lion of the Punjab Salmaan Taseer (31 May 1944-04 Jan 2011)” According to Mr. Anjum, the Pakistan People’s Party said it would observe two weeks of mourning over Taseer’s death. Prime Minister Syed Yusuf Raza Gilani “strongly condemned” the incident, according to CNN.
Here is a Wall Street Journal news report that fills in additional information: