1-10-2012By Pamela Kling Takiff
Fighting Discrimination Program
January 4th marked the one-year anniversary of the assassination of Salmaan Taseer, governor of Pakistan’s Punjab Provence. He was murdered by his own bodyguard because Taseer opposed the country’s blasphemy laws, which the government uses to persecute religious minorities.
The bodyguard, Mumaz Hussein Qadri, admitted to the crime and was sentenced to life in prison. Outside the courthouse, supporters showered Qadri with rose petals. The presiding judge, by contrast, had to leave Pakistan after receiving death threats.
A year later, not much has changed. Last week, while some Pakistanis gathered to mourn the loss of Governor Taseer, others rallied in support of Qadri and called for his release. It’s feared that the August kidnapping of Taseer’s eldest son, Shahbaz, is the work of extremists who will seek to negotiate his return in exchange for Qadri’s freedom.
Meanwhile, religious groups and conservative political parties have successfully pressured the government to withdraw a bill proposing amendments that would limit the misuse of blasphemy laws. A renewed push reform isn’t likely anytime soon.
Though other countries and international groups should speak out against Pakistan’s blasphemy law, the impetus for reform must come from within. Otherwise it will be denounced as a western effort.
But opposing Pakistan’s blasphemy laws is a dangerous cause, one few are willing to take on. Governor Taseer’s daughter, Shehrrbano Taseer, is one who has. Following her father’s example, she’s working against blasphemy laws in Pakistan and elsewhere. We teamed up with her in 2011 to block a U.N. resolution that would have created a global blasphemy code.
Shehrbano Taseer and her allies in Pakistan will continue their struggle for freedom of worship against long odds. They do so even though, or perhaps because, Governor Taseer gave up his life for the cause.