Salman Taseer, Governor of Punjab, was shot for voicing his opinion on the controversial Blasphemy Law in Pakistan on January 4, 2011. The law would have sent to the gallows an illiterate Christian peasant woman, Aasia Bibi, who stood accused by her Muslim neighbors after a noisy dispute.
His killer, Malik Mumtaz Qadri, is revered in certain circles here, it would actually not be wrong to say perhaps majority of the masses was of the opinion that that was just what he deserved. In a country where you can get killed for simply voicing your thoughts on something you believe to be fundamentally flawed in foundation as well as execution, Taseer was indeed courageous for trying to question and bring to light the injustice we dole out as a nation.
Salman Taseer’s body was riddled with 26 bullets – fired at him by his security guard. Justice Pervez Ali Shah sentenced Qadri to death despite receiving numerous death threats, and eventually fled the country. To this date, surprisingly, Aasia Bibi – separated from her three young children and husband, remains confined in jail where she is praying for her accusers and her country. Or perhaps, not so surprisingly: lawyers from around the country offered to take up Qadri’s case pro bono, believing he had indeed done the right thing, going so far as to celebrate and shower him with flowers.
Minority Minister Shahbaz Bhatti, who defended her and supported reform of the blasphemy laws was shot dead a few weeks later on March 2.
Taseer remains a symbol of hope for those that try to rationalize heinous crimes against humanity in these times, people who speak out against injustices that somehow seem to miss the mark with the general public. Again, in a country where literacy is judged by one’s ability to simply write down your name on a piece of paper, comprehending acts such as murder and then going on to celebrate them speaks volumes about the tatters we consider morals and religion used to spread chaos and fear.
As a parting gift to the Taseer family, Shahbaz Taseer, the governor’s son, was abducted in late August. One can only assume by people who sympathize with Qadri. Recent reports suggest that he is alive and believed to be in Waziristan – along with US national Warren Weinstein and kidnapped for ransom by Al-Qaeda operatives.
But only time will answer whether brainwashed “operatives” who kill people randomly will accept ransom as a penance for speaking up. Qadri was sentenced on October 1, 2011 at the high-security Adiyala prison in Rawalpindi – he appealed on October 6 and remains captive there even after confessing to the crime. If Shahbaz has, in fact, been kidnapped by Qadri sympathizers it would surely be a huge blow for the Pakistani nation and in particular, the Taseer family, if Qadri were to be given a life sentence in exchange for Shahbaz’s life.
At least Shahbaz’s sister, Shehrbano, still has hopes for the new year: “Aftr Abba died,it became difficult2look fwd2anything.Life has become coping¬ living.But am thinking of 2012 as the yr Shahbaz will b home (Sic). More importantly, the idealist in all of us hopes, that voices which initiate debate are not silenced under this sort of terrorism forever. Whether right or wrong, is a question for another time.
(Photos: SFGate, Dawn)