Critic of Pakistan’s Blasphemy Law Shot Dead

January 4, 2011


Pakistani authorities say that Salman Taseer, the governor of Pakistan’s most populous province and an outspoken critic of Pakistan’s blasphemy law, was murdered by one of his police guards in Islamabad.

Governor Taseer had advocated for the repeal of Pakistan’s brutal and controversial blasphemy law, which imposes a mandatory death sentence for anyone convicted of insulting Islam.  Religious parties strongly opposed any changes to the law, which was introduced in the 1980s under the military dictatorship of Gen. Mohammad Zia ul-Haq to unite the country religiously.  Last Friday Islamist parties brought Pakistan to a standstill by striking and holding protests against any change to the law. Effigies of Mr. Taseer were burned throughout the country.

Police say an elite-force security guard, Malik Mumtaz Hussain Qadri, is under arrest. Police officials further report that Mr. Qadri was motivated to assassinate Mr. Taseer because of his opposition to the blasphemy law.

Mr. Taseer was a prominent member of the ruling Pakistan Peoples Party and an ally of President Asif Ali Zardari, the husband of Mrs. Benazir Bhutto, who herself was assassinated in 2007.  President Zardari appointed Mr. Taseer governor of Punjab in 2008.

Effigies of Mr. Taseer were burned in countrywide protests last Friday when a strike by Islamist parties, seeking to head off any change in the law, brought Pakistan to a standstill. Thousands of people took to the streets and forced businesses to close.

CFI has actively opposed Pakistan’s and other blasphemy laws through its mission to the United Nations.  The law has been used to persecute religious minorities, including Christians and atheists.  Recent attempts to revise the law have failed repeatedly.