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August 26, 2013

Shahbaz Taseer Should be Released Immediately

Exactly two years ago, Shahbaz Taseer was kidnapped. On his way to work in Lahore on August 26, 2011, a group of armed gunmen surrounded his car and forced him out. The snatching shocked Pakistan and the world. It happened just seven months after Shahbaz’s father, Salmaan Taseer, was assassinated by his own bodyguard for opposing Pakistan’s lethal blasphemy laws.

Salmaan Taseer’s assassination illustrated how deadly the debate over blasphemy laws has become. He was murdered because he spoke out in favor of reforming abusive blasphemy laws and against the proposed death sentence of Asia Bibi, a Christian farm laborer convicted of blasphemy.

It is hard to obtain credible information about the Shahbaz’s abduction, and scores of media reports have spread inaccurate rumors about him. His wife Maheen Taseer shared in Newsweek  a poignant personal account on how “truth is trumped by sensationalism” with regard to her missing husband.  Confusion about Shahbaz’s kidnapping reigns to this day, including about whether his abduction is directly linked to his father’s murder. Credible reports indicate that it is likely that Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan are likely behind the kidnapping of Shahbaz, and over the past two years, there has been widespread speculation that Shahbaz has been kept in hiding in the federally-administered tribal areas of Pakistan bordering Afghanistan, when other victims of kidnappings have been taken into captivity.

On this solemn anniversary, Human Rights First again condemns Shahbaz Taseer’s abduction and urges the Pakistani government to do its utmost to release him, to identify and bring to justice his kidnappers, and to not be intimidated by the extremists who seek to exploit the issue of blasphemy to advance a destructive political agenda.