Salman Taseer in a press conference with Aasia Bibi (r), his wife (c) and his daughter (L)
The country in 2011 has lost a brave, liberal and outspoken politician-Governor Punjab, Salman Taseer–who did what no one else could do. In December, 2010, I got a chance of meeting him and when asked about his bold step of supporting Aasia Bibi, a Christian woman sentenced to death on blasphemy charges, he was still determined and confident of his faith as a Muslim and also of what he thought of blasphemy law. He wanted President Asif Ali Zardari to pardon Aasia Bibi for the crime she never committed. Blasphemy law, he called, ‘a black law’ saying I do not like it. But since then we all went gaga and assumed his support for Aasia as his disrespect to Holy Prophet (PBUH) but that made me wonder how illogical we are in our assumptions.
I have some questions in my mind with a hope I will ever get their answers. Who commits blasphemy? Those hawkers who throw newspapers at our doorsteps with the name of God and Prophet on the front page? The police and lawyers who repeat thousands of times those blasphemous remarks in police stations and courts to prove their point against the accused? And why this blasphemy law is not applied when disrespect is shown for other religions and Prophets?
NO one had the guts to raise Aasia issue, only Salman Taseer could do so. It is a shame when Dr. Sahibzada Abu-al-Khair Muhammad Zubair from JUP said on Geo that no Muslim should mourn his (Salman) death because he supported a woman who committed blasphemy. Salman Taseer rightly said that this is a man made law.
Criticising a law which some people have made for their vested interests does not mean disrespect to Prophet (PBUH). The blame of this murder should be shared by all those religious parties, extremist forces, and orthodox who either stayed quiet when death threats were made to the Governor, or who provoked those who finally did it in the broad day light.
Slman Taseer was neither an amazing politician, nor a perfect governor but he was liberal and never a hypocrite which is not a trait of a good politician. He had never been a supporter of any cause despite all his liberal views, but he died for a cause. Those who thought that this murder is enough to silent all dissenting voices have to face disappointment now. It will create many Salman Taseer’s because we all own this country. We refuse to hand it over to any extremist religious, or ideological force. We have a right to life and we refuse to be killed for our views.
Insecure cowards need bullets but brave live and die for their beliefs. Islam and Prophet (PBUH) do not need these so called watch guards who are foolish in assuming that they are here to protect Islam and Prophet (PBUH). It is a war now which we have to fight for our survival, humanity and Pakistan.
Below are some stories and Interview of Salman Taseer:
Governor Punjab Salman Taseer killed in gun attack
Dawn, 4 January, 2011
ISLAMABAD: Gunmen killed the governor of Pakistan’s Punjab province, a senior member of the ruling party, in Islamabad on Tuesday, his spokesman said.
“Yes, he has died,” said the spokesman for Salman Taseer.
Police official Mohammad Iftikhar said Taseer was gunned down by one of his elite security force protectors. Five other people were wounded as other security personnel responded to the attack.
Police said earlier Taseer had been shot nine times and wounded near his Islamabad home in the F6 sector and close to Kohsar market, a popular shopping and cafe spot frequented by wealthy Pakistanis and expatriates.
Another police official, Hasan Iqbal, said a pair of witnesses told the police that as the governor was leaving his vehicle, a man from his security squad fired at him. Taseer then fell, while other police officials fired on the attacker.
In recent days, as the People’s Party has faced the loss of its coalition partners, the 56-year-old Taseer has insisted that the government will survive. But it was his stance against the blasphemy laws that apparently led to his killing.
Interior Minister Rahman Malik told reporters that the suspect in the case had surrendered to police and told them he killed Taseer because “the governor described the blasphemy laws as a black law.”
Taseer was believed to be meeting someone for a meal, Malik said. Other members of his security detail were being questioned, Malik said.
The security for Taseer was provided by the Punjab government.
“We will see whether it was an individual act or someone had asked him” to do it, Malik said of the attacker.
“He was the most courageous voice after Benazir Bhutto on the rights of women and religious minorities,” said a crying Farahnaz Ispahani, an aide to Zardari and friend of Taseer. “God, we will miss him.”
Q: Why did you take up Aasiya Bibi’s case?
A: Aasiya Bibi’s case is particularly relevant. She is a woman who has been incarcerated for a year-and-a half on a charge trumped up against her five days after an incident where people who gave evidence against her were not even present. So this is a blatant violation against a member of a minority community. I, like a lot of right-minded people, was outraged, and all I did was to show my solidarity. It is the first time in the history of the Punjab that a governor has gone inside a district jail, held a press conference and stated clearly that this is a blatant miscarriage of justice and that the sentence that has been passed is cruel and inhumane. I wanted to take a mercy petition to the president, and he agreed, saying he would pardon Aasiya Bibi if there had indeed been a miscarriage of justice.
Q: When do you expect the president to issue the pardon?
A: The case will come before the High Court and be heard, and if for any grotesque reason the judgement of the Sheikhupura district judge is upheld, then she will be given a presidential pardon.
Q: You have been criticised for circumventing the legal process.
A: Yes, particularly by a television talk show host. I would like to ask that host if some maulvi accused her of blasphemy and she spent a year-and-a half in jail and was then offered a presidential pardon, would she turn around and say, “no wait until my appeal has been heard.” This kind of ‘mummy daddy’ approach is probably fine for others, but I wonder if she would apply it to herself. I don’t think I have circumvented anything; all I have done is to draw everyone’s attention to this case. I have also showed my solidarity with minority communities who are being targeted by this law and, in doing so, I have sent across a strong message.
I have received thousands of messages from people from all walks of life. The result can only be good. This law that no one dared speak about is now being discussed, criticised and its repeal sought. I have heard anchors, journalists, members of civil society, people like Ghamdi, Imran Khan even Rana Sanaullah and many more saying amendments are required. The important thing to remember is that this is a man-made law, not a God-made one. What I find particularly distasteful is that when you speak of amendment, people assume you condone the crime. If I am against the death sentence, it does not mean I condone murder.
Q: Do you advocate repeal of those provisions in the Pakistan Penal Code better known as the Blasphemy Law?
A: If you want my personal opinion, I don’t like this law at all. I understand we are working in a coalition government and that being the case what we can do is to amend the law in such a way that the maker of a false accusation is tried under the same law. There should also be a proper filtration process where someone like a DCO should confirm that there is a case to answer. This will help ensure that pressure from maulvis and fanatics does not result in the victimisation of helpless people. One of the maulvis demonstrating against me said that they killed Arif Iqbal Bhatti, a judge who released someone accused of blasphemy. Surely, at the very least, he should be tried for incitement to murder.
Q: Yes, but the perpetrators get away…
A: The real problem is that the government is not prepared to face religious fanaticism head on. This also gives us a bad name in the world.
Q: Babar Awan, the federal law minister, has said there is no question of repealing the law on his watch. How do you respond to that?
A: Well, I do not agree with Babar Awan, it is as simple as that. That opinion is not a majority opinion in the party. Sherry Rehman has tabled a bill to amend the PPC. Most people in this country – and I am not talking about the lunatic fringe – are moderate. They do not like this law and have demonstrated against it.
Q: Will the PPP support Sherry Rehman’s effort?
A: President Zardari is a liberal, modern man; most people I know in the PPP are liberal and modern. I think the MQM, ANP and most of those in the PML-Q have the same point of view. So if push came to shove and there is no bowing to pressure from the lunatic maulvi, then it can very easily go through. And I think if Nawaz Sharif will show a little bit of moral courage for a change and keep away from his constituency of religious fundamentalism and place himself on middle ground, that too would be a very positive thing. This amendment should come through not on a party basis but across party lines. So you vote with your conscience.
Q: People may have demonstrated against Aasiya Bibi’s sentence, but fatwas have been issued against you.
A: People also issued fatwas against Benazir Bhutto and Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. They issued fatwas against basant. These are a bunch of self-appointed maulvis who no one takes seriously. The thing I find disturbing is that if you examine the cases of the hundreds tried under this law, you have to ask how many of them are well-to-do? How many businessmen? Why is it that only the poor and defenceless are targeted? How come over 50% of them are Christians when they form less than 2% of the country’s population. This points clearly to the fact that the law is misused to target minorities.
Q: How do you think the media has handled this issue?
A: I am very impressed. Nearly 90% of the media in Pakistan has spoken out against this. I have watched talk shows, spoken to anchors, read numerous columns and opinions, and barring those with a deliberate agenda, not just every media person but also guests on talk shows have openly condemned the Blasphemy Law. They all say it should be amended, which is something which has been the most encouraging result of my move. Because I took a stand, many people have lined up and taken a stand and that, in turn, will empower judges and law-enforcement agencies to the extent that they may not bow to pressure. I think that now a policeman registering a case of blasphemy or a judge hearing a case will investigate before registering or at least think twice before hearing such as case.
Q: What kind of perverse pleasure is there in oppressing the weak and vulnerable?
A: Unfortunately and sadly there are people who feel bigger when they pick on someone who cannot fight back. It’s called bullying. I went to Sheikhupura jail to stand up against a bully and it has encouraged others to do so as well. That’s what taking a moral stance is. I am honestly happy to say that I am heartened by the huge response from ordinary folk. Even people who are deeply religious have spoken out against this black law. Ghamdi, for example, has stated clearly that this has nothing to do with Islam – Islam calls on us to protect minorities, the weak and the vulnerable.
ISLAMABAD: Governor Punjab Salmaan Taseer has said that he would take the clemency appeal of Aasia Bibi, Christian woman sentenced to death over blasphemy allegations, to the President.
He said he would personally request the president to use his prerogative and pardon the woman. Taseer visited Sheikhupura to meet Aasia Bibi on Saturday. Talking to the media men after the meeting, he said that Bibi denied that she had said anything disrespectful for the Holy Prophet (p.b.u.h) or Islam, adding that she accused the villagers who had chased her to her home of sexually assaulting her and dragging her through the streets. Taseer said that he did not want to interfere in the judicial proceeding, but he would do as much as he could in his capacity to make sure that she does not get punished for a crime she said she had not committed. He added that it was for the president to decide whether he would or would not grant her appeal.
Published in The Express Tribune, November 21st, 2010.