Assassination complicates controversial blasphemy law

BANGALORE, India (RNS) Church officials in Pakistan say the
assassination of Salman Taseer, an outspoken critic of Pakistan's
blasphemy law, is a "setback" for the campaign to overturn the law that
makes illegal to speak against Islam.

"This assassination has made it now extremely difficult for us to
campaign against the blasphemy law," Victor Azariah, general secretary
of the National Council of Churches in Pakistan (NCCP), told RNS from
his office at Lahore on Wednesday (Jan. 5). "Everyone here is scared."

Taseer, 64, was governor of Punjab province before he was shot dead
on Tuesday by one of his security guards in the provincial capital of

The alleged assailant, Malik Mumtaz Husain Qadri, immediately
surrendered and told the police he carried out the murder to avenge the
"insult" to the blasphemy law by Taseer, who had called it a "black

Taseer had drawn the ire of Islamic fundamentalists after he
initiated an unsuccessful clemency bid for Aasia Bibi, a 45-year-old
Christian mother who was sentenced to death on questionable blasphemy
charges in early November.

Islamic scholars issued an apostasy decree against the governor, who
had met Bibi in jail to listen to her story and lobbied for her to be
granted clemency.

"When such a high government official is killed for speaking out
(against the blasphemy law), what can the ordinary people do?" asked

The assassination, he said, is "a setback to our demand for
abolishing or amending the blasphemy law."

Archbishop Lawrence Saldana, president of the Catholic Bishops
Conference of Pakistan, also acknowledged the assassination would have
"a negative impact" on civil and church activists campaigning against
the blasphemy law.

"This (assassination) will only add to the fear that is already
there," said Saldana, who heads the Catholic Church in the
overwhelmingly Muslim country.

Radical Muslim groups, meanwhile, publicly hailed the assassination
of the outspoken governor who had tweeted a week ago that he was under
"huge pressure to cow down ... on blasphemy. Refused. Even if I'm the
last man standing."

"We pay rich tributes and salute the bravery, valor and faith of
Mumtaz Qadri," said a statement by a group of fundamentalist clerics.

-- Anto Akkara

Anto Akkara

Anto Akkara writes for Ecumenical News International.

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