Slain governor’s son in trouble for Christmas message
Shaan Taseer receives death threats from Pakistan hardliners for criticizing blasphemy law
Shaan Taseer lights a candle on March 15, 2015 to express solidarity with the Christian community in the aftermath of a terrorist attack on Catholic churches in Lahore. (Photo by Zahid Hussain Khan)
The son of a slain Pakistani Christian governor has received death threats after criticizing the country’s notorious blasphemy laws in a Christmas message on social media forums.
In the video message, Shaan Taseer called the blasphemy law inhuman and urged Pakistanis to remember death row convicts Asia Bibi and Nabeel Masih in their prayers.
Taseer is the son of Salmaan Taseer, who was shot dead while serving as Punjab province governor by his bodyguard Mumtaz Qadri in Islamabad on Jan. 4, 2011.
The shooting occurred days after he met Bibi in prison and called for an amendment to the blasphemy law.
Bibi, a Catholic and mother of five, was sentenced to death in 2010 for allegedly insulting the Prophet Muhammad, a charge she denies. She maintains she was targeted for daring to drink water from a vessel used by Muslim farm co-workers.
"I request you to keep all those in your thoughts and prayers who have been subjected to religious persecution especially Asia Bibi, Nabeel Maish, their families, and all those Pakistanis who have been victimized by this inhuman law. We should remember them in our prayers so that their ordeal comes to an early end," the governor’s son said in the short 33-second video message.
The video drew an angry response and death threats from Pakistan Sunni Tehreek, a hardline Islamist group strictly opposed to any reforms to the blasphemy law.
The group immediately filed a blasphemy complaint with police, while a cleric also issued an edict, calling for Taseer to be killed.
Taseer, however, remained defiant and vowed to continue his campaign to get the law amended.
In a Facebook message responding to Pakistan Sunni Tehreek’s complaint he said, "This has only strengthened my resolve…. The blasphemy law must be deliberated upon and this debate will not be silenced with the barrel of a gun."
Meanwhile, the Islamist group says it will hold a protest in Islamabad to demand Taseer’s arrest and pay tribute to his father’s killer Mumtaz Qadri.
"We will mark this day to pay tribute to Mumtaz Qadri for his brave act and to extend support for the blasphemy law," Naeem Raza, a Pakistan Sunni Tehreek spokesman, told ucanews.com.
Blasphemy is a sensitive issue in Pakistan where calls for reform have met with violent responses.
Among others murdered for speaking out against the misuse of the blasphemy laws was Christian federal minister Shahbaz Bhatti. He was killed a few weeks after Governor Taseer.
Dozens of people have been murdered as a result of blasphemy allegations since the promulgation of the blasphemy laws in 1987, according to rights groups.
Blasphemy against the Prophet Muhammad carries a mandatory death sentence in Pakistan. The state has not carried out any executions for those convicted, but a number of people have been killed, some in prison or before their trial ended. Blasphemy against the Quran is punishable with life imprisonment.
Church leaders have long charged that the laws are abused for personal gain and that religious extremists are furthering their agenda by abusing blasphemy laws.
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