Pakistan: Assassination, abduction and blasphemy

I was wondering about a reporter friend I met in Jerusalem so I stopped by her Facebook page and was surprised to see a few links to stories about the abduction of the son of Salman Taseer. Punjab Gov. Salman Taseer was assassinated at the very beginning of this year by his own bodyguard. That bodyguard was upset about Taseer's opposition to blasphemy laws carrying the death sentence for insulting Islam. Taseer was riddled by gunshots, shot in the back. The response to his assassination, the most high-profile one since former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto was killed a few years prior, was perhaps even more shocking.

The 26-year-old assassin was showered by hundreds of supporters with rose petals and garlands when he appeared in court. News reports mentioned that moderate religious leaders refused to condemn the assassination, and some clergy flat out supported the attack.

Taseer was also called a moderate or liberal Muslim. A couple of months later, the Christian federal minorities minister, Shahbaz Bhatti, was also gunned down. He was also killed for speaking out against a brutal blasphemy law. The law isn't just theoretical. Christian Asia Noreen Bibi has been on death row under the law for some time now.

And now Taseer's son Shahbaz has been kidnapped. My main complaint about the coverage is that it's lacking. You can actually find hundreds of stories in the Pakistani press and in the European press. But the stories stateside are much harder to come by.

The Los Angeles Times did publish a story, which you can read here. And Time actually has an economical but informative story about the current situation facing those who oppose capital punishment for "blasphemy." Here's a sample:

The abduction has plunged many Pakistanis into a state of disbelief. With memories of the assassination still fresh in many minds, there are fears both for the family and for the future of a country where such incidents can take place. "Somehow, after Salmaan's assassination, the family had picked up the pieces," says a friend of the Taseers. "Now how does anyone cope after a horrific incident like this?" On Jan. 4, Governor Taseer — an outspoken advocate of religious tolerance — was gunned down with 27 bullets by one of his own elite bodyguards. The assassin, Mumtaz Qadri, confessed to his crime with chilling pride. "This is the punishment for a blasphemer," Qadri declared. He belonged not to a fundamentalist or militant group but to the Sufi-leaning Barelvi school of Islam.

The reaction to the assassination was no less shocking. Within moments of Taseer's murder, Qadri was hailed as a hero by a broad section of mainstream Pakistani society. In the months before he was killed, Taseer had been robustly campaigning against the country's vaguely worded blasphemy laws that have been consistently invoked against religious minorities. In particular, Taseer demanded the release of Aasia Noreen, a poor farmhand, who became the first Christian woman to face the death penalty under those laws. The governor's rare and forceful opposition was twisted and cast as an act of blasphemy itself. When Qadri appeared at court, he was garlanded and cheered by a group of lawyers.

In the ensuing months, not only has Qadri evaded conviction, but the Taseer family has also endured a series of further threats. Despite Qadri's confession, the court has convened only fitfully, dragging out the trial. "The government set a very bad precedent in the aftermath of Salmaan Taseer's death by not seeking to hold his murderer accountable," says Ali Dayan Hasan, Pakistan director for Human Rights Watch. "There has been no movement on the case, and the failure to prosecute and convict the self-confessed murderer is a sign of both incompetence and an appeasement of extremists." It is this form of surrender, Hasan says, that emboldens further lawlessness in Pakistan.

Very well written by Omar Waraich. I hadn't realized, for instance, that Taseer's family had faced further threats or that the trial wasn't being run fairly.

I realize that America has its own troubles, particularly with the economy. I understand that reporters here are focused internally and obsessed with politics. But Americans also need to know what's going on in Pakistan. Daily updates might not make sense, but covering the latest dramatic situation involving (presumably) the blasphemy laws there does make sense. It doesn't take that much room and helps those of us stateside be less myopic about the plight of Pakistan.

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