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Salman Taseer and Victims of Blasphemy

January 4 marks the 12th death anniversary of the former governor of Punjab, Salman Taseer.


He was a prominent politician who was known for his fearless attitude and appropriate political statements.


Born in Simla, British India, he was raised in the privileged home of Mohammad Din Taseer, who was a prominent poet and participant in the struggle for Pakistan.


He studied accountancy in England and was a successful business tycoon.


He started his political career in the 1960s as a member of the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) and served as interim Federal Minister and Governor of Punjab in 2007 and 2008, respectively.


Known for his clear stance and liberal opinions, the turning point of his career and perhaps his life came when he took the side of Asia Bibi, who was sentenced to death for a falsely accused blasphemy case.


Given the religious fanaticism in Pakistan, various religious entities lashed out at him for his support for a Christian woman who had committed blasphemy.


Taseer repeatedly defied religious extremism and called for reforms in the blasphemy law as it was being misused, but unfortunately, his words were taken out of context and the situation worsened.


Eventually, on January 4, one of his bodyguards, Malik Mumtaz Qadri, shot him 28 times while Taseer was leaving Kohsar market in Islamabad after having dinner with a friend.


The killer was a member of the elite force and had planned the assassination considering the governor had committed blasphemy against the Last Prophet (SAWW).


He confessed to this heinous act and said that he acted out of his own will and that there was no other entity involved.


After the trial, he was hanged to death, although he pleaded for mercy.


The assassination of such a high-profile personality after Benazir Bhutto not only shook Pakistan but also made rounds in international media.


Christopher Hitchens commented on Taseer’s murder by saying that this was "cold blood" and that religious extremism has become "fantastically dangerous."


Pope Benedict also spoke out against the blasphemy law as it cost the life of Governor Punjab and asked for amends to ensure minority rights as Shahbaz Bhatti, the federal minister for minority affairs, was also assassinated for his support for Asia Bibi.


Religious extremism in Pakistan has cost many lives, from high-profile murders to those of common people.


Pakistan has also been under the umbrella of religious violence, which flares up now and then.


The history of blasphemy laws can be traced back to the Colonial Evidence Act of 1872.


The Criminal Law Amendment Act of 1986 enacts the death penalty for blasphemy.


Articles 295-A, 295-B, 295-C, 298-B, and 298-C of the Pakistan Penal Code (PPC) cover issues related to blasphemy, but they are inclined towards one religion, in this case, Islam, and sideline minority religions.


Less than 10 cases were reported between 1947 and 1986, whereas after the Islamization project of Zia-ul-Haq, the number increased to 1500 in the last 30 years.


The reasons to be found are the use of blasphemy laws under the pretext of religious protection.


People falsely accused each other of committing blasphemy to avenge their feuds.


Also, blasphemy laws provide more protection to the accuser than the accused, and the chances of conviction are higher given the death sentence as a penalty.


The astonishing point is that most of the accused were executed by an emotionally charged mob, in the case of Mashal Khan, or a religiously emotional individual, which deprived the person of having a fair trial and thus violated human rights.


The judiciary mostly overturns the penalty, but this happens rarely as the monopoly of violence lies in the hands of a fanatic.


It is called a "black law," as Taseer himself called it, because it gives the clergy an edge to promote sectarianism and stir the emotions of commoners.


Numerous studies and research projects have been conducted on blasphemy laws that analyse jurisprudence, jurisdiction, and social temperament.


Paul Marshal wrote in his book "Silence" that the control of blasphemy leads to more violence.


Most countries have laws about hate speech and violent acts that prohibit any statement that goes against universal human rights, irrespective of religion.


Most Muslim countries have blasphemy laws about their religion having the death penalty as the only verdict. Among them, Indonesia has a balanced approach to blasphemy law.


Article 156(a) states that "any person expressing hatred, violence, or misusing a particular religion recognised in Indonesia will face imprisonment for a maximum of five years."


So, many religions are sheltered under the umbrella of this law, and there are fewer chances of judicial prejudice against one religion or community. 


The blasphemy cases are getting higher in Pakistan, while the state of human rights is abysmal.


This makes one think that if a prominent personality can be killed under a misinterpretation, then what can be said about the common man, especially religious minorities?


 


Laws must be strengthened along with religious harmony in society to prevent such crimes against humanity.


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Tags: Salman Taseer Governor of Punjab 4 january 2011 Blasphemy Blasphemy laws Religious Extremisim Murder of Salman Taseer



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