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Surge Desk

Salman Taseer Apparently Killed Because of Stance on Pakistan's Blasphemy Law

Jan 4, 2011 – 9:53 AM
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Torie Bosch Contributor

The governor of Pakistan's Punjab province, Salman Taseer, was assassinated Tuesday by one of his own security guards. The shooting took place in the Pakistani capital of Islamabad.

When the shooter was arrested, he allegedly told the police that the reason he assassinated his boss was that Taseer supported changes to Pakistan's so-called "blasphemy law." Under this highly controversial statute, people who insult Islam can be sentenced to death.

Want to know more about blasphemy laws? Surge Desk put together a little primer on them.

Where are they found?
Laws against insulting religion aren't unique to Pakistan, or Islam. They are also on the books in Greece, Poland, Indonesia, Egypt, Malaysia, Algeria and other countries.

What do they say?
It depends on the country. In Pakistan, it's illegal to insult the Prophet Muhammad or defile the Koran. Anyone convicted of insulting the Prophet Muhammad is automatically sentenced to death.

How long have they been around in Pakistan?
Pakistan's blasphemy law originated in the 1980s, when Gen. Muhammad Zia ul-Haq led the country. He wanted to "Islamize" the country and instituted the law to promote Islam.

Are they really enforced?
According to one human rights group, 110 people were accused of blasphemy in Pakistan last year. Many of those accused of violating blasphemy laws are religious minorities, like Christians in Pakistan. No one has ever actually been executed under Pakistan's blasphemy law. People sentenced to death have always been released or had their sentences commuted. At least, that's been the case so far.

Why are they such a big deal now?
The recent case of Asia Bibi, a Christian woman sentenced to hanging for insulting the prophet, has sparked massive debate internationally and within Pakistan. She is currently in prison. The international community is pressuring Pakistan to release her, but within Pakistan, many who support the blasphemy law are calling for her hanging.

What did Salman Taseer say?
He allegedly called the blasphemy law a "black law." He visited Asia Bibi in prison and called on President Asif Ali Zardari to grant her clemency, saying she should never have been charged in the first place.

In words that now seem darkly prophetic, a recent NPR story quoted Taseer, a Muslim, as saying:

Before this, nobody was prepared to discuss this law. It will set the mullahs at your throat. And I said that she should be pardoned, and this is a travesty and shame that a poor woman like this who hasn't the means to defend herself [against] trumped-up charges. ... And in a country where your prime minister is Muslim, your president is Muslim, you're 95 percent Muslim -- what is the need for laws like this? ... Frankly, it's up to God to decide whether I'm a Muslim or not, not some illiterate mullah to decide I'm a Muslim or not.

In November, Taseer discussed Asia Bibi and blasphemy laws with CNN. Watch:

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Filed under: World, Surge Desk