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Critics Say Pakistan’s Blasphemy Law is Being Abused

  • Peter Fedynsky

Alleged assassin of Punjab province governor, Mumtaz Qadri is taken into custody

Alleged assassin of Punjab province governor, Mumtaz Qadri is taken into custody

In January, the governor of Pakistan’s Punjab province, Salman Taseer, was assassinated by his bodyguard, who claimed Taseer had violated the country’s blasphemy law. Taseer, a Muslim, was shot dead in broad daylight on January 4 in Islamabad. His alleged assassin, Mumtaz Qadri, has yet to be tried, though he does not deny pulling the trigger. The late governor's daughter, Shehrbano Taseer, has become a critic of the blasphemy law, saying it is is often abused.

Asia Bibi, the Christian woman who Taseer sought to defend against charges of blasphemy, faces the death penalty - accused by women in her village of blaspheming the Prophet Mohammed.

Bibi protested her innocence in November.

“They [neighbors] filed fake charges against me," she said. "In the past I have had conflicts with them due to a sewerage issue. They stole my goat."

Shehrbano Taseer, the governor’s daughter, is on a speaking tour of the United States to discuss the issues surrounding the case. She says blasphemy laws are easily twisted to victimize Christians, Hindus and even Muslims, to serve the self-interest of the accusers.

“The ground reality is that they are mostly used as an instrument of oppression and terror. Anyone can level a blasphemy charge against anyone," explained Taseer. "You know, it’s mostly due because of personal vendettas or land disputes.”

In the case of Asia Bibi, local clerics reportedly took the accusations against her at face value. One of them, Maqsood Ahmed Masoomi, insists that courts are not necessary to punish blasphemy.

"We are saying that anybody in this world who says anything blasphemous against the Holy Prophet has to be killed, and anyone who hears it [blasphemous words], should kill him on the spot. This is our belief," the cleric said.

Taseer says Pakistani leaders fail to adequately pursue cases against those who abuse the blasphemy laws - partly because they fear being killed by extremists.

“This is not just this government, but previous governments have a tendency to appease these religious extremists, and there needs to be a no-holds-barred policy," Taseer said. "They need precedents to be set to ensure that this kind of behavior will not be tolerated by the state.”

Taseer warns that in Pakistan, knives are being turned inward - by people who take the law into their own hands, hiding behind religion to pursue selfish ends. She says her father’s murder should serve as an occasion for the people of Pakistan to consider whether this is the kind of country they want.

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