Assassinations and abductions are increasingly a part of Pakistan politics as the Islamic republic descends into mob anarchy. Instead of public debate, politicians who take controversial positions are murdered and their killers treated like heroes.
Punjab’s governor and presidential hopeful, Salman Taseer, and the federal minister for minorities, Shahbaz Bhatti, have been gunned down. Both committed the unpardonable sin of coming out in favor of repealing Pakistan’s notorious blasphemy laws.
In Pakistan, any Muslim can accuse any non-Muslim of blaspheming the Prophet Mohammed or the Koran — and the accused is doomed. Accusations have included touching the Koran without ceremonially washing one’s hands or commenting aloud that Jesus died for our sins and Mohammed did not.
That comment resulted in a death penalty for Christian mother of five Asia Noreen Bibi, who sits on death row awaiting her execution.
Islamic shari’ah law bars her from testifying against her accusers. No defense is effective. “Extra-judicial execution” is increasingly common — meaning that if the courts find the accused innocent, the exonerated is likely to be gunned down by spectators in the courtroom or waiting outside.
Families of the accused have to go into hiding — frequently losing everything they own. Increasingly the law has been abused in property disputes. If a Christian, Buddhist, Sikh or Hindu refuses to sell a key property, the buyer accuses them of blasphemy — and while they are in jail, the accuser just takes the real estate.
Pakistan is a key U.S. ally in the War on Terrorism, yet the insanity of its judicial system and the deadliness of political debate is ignored by the American press.
“I was wondering about a reporter friend I met in Jerusalem,” writes Mollie Hemingway on Dr. Terry Mattingly’s website “GetReligion.”
“So I stopped by her Facebook page and was surprised to see a few links to stories about the abduction of the son of Salman Taseer. Punjab Gov. Salman Taseer was assassinated at the very beginning of this year by his own bodyguard. That bodyguard was upset about Taseer’s opposition to blasphemy laws carrying the death sentence for insulting Islam. Taseer was riddled by gunshots, shot in the back. The response to his assassination, the most high-profile one since former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto was killed a few years prior, was perhaps even more shocking.
“The 26-year-old assassin was showered by hundreds of supporters with rose petals and garlands when he appeared in court.
“A couple of months later, the Christian federal minorities minister, Shahbaz Bhatti, was also gunned down,” writes Hemingway. “He was also killed for speaking out against a brutal blasphemy law. The law isn’t just theoretical. Christian Asia Noreen Bibi has been on death row under the law for some time now.
“And now Taseer’s son Shahbaz has been kidnapped. My main complaint about the coverage is that it’s lacking. You can actually find hundreds of stories in the Pakistani press and in the European press. But the stories stateside are much harder to come by.
“The Los Angeles Times did publish a story. Time actually has an economical but informative story about the current situation facing those who oppose capital punishment for “blasphemy.” Here’s a sample:
On Jan. 4, Governor Taseer — an outspoken advocate of religious tolerance — was gunned down with 27 bullets by one of his own elite bodyguards. The assassin, Mumtaz Qadri, confessed to his crime with chilling pride.
“This is the punishment for a blasphemer,” Qadri declared.
The reaction to the assassination was no less shocking. Within moments of Taseer’s murder, Qadri was hailed as a hero by a broad section of mainstream Pakistani society.
In the months before he was killed, Taseer had been robustly campaigning against the country’s vaguely worded blasphemy laws that have been consistently invoked against religious minorities.
In particular, Taseer demanded the release of Asia Noreen Bibi, a poor farmhand, who became the first Christian woman to face the death penalty under those laws.
The governor’s rare and forceful opposition was twisted and cast as an act of blasphemy itself. When Qadri appeared at court, he was garlanded and cheered by a group of lawyers.
In the ensuing months, not only has Qadri evaded conviction, but the Taseer family has also endured a series of further threats. Despite Qadri’s confession, the court has convened only fitfully, dragging out the trial.
“The government set a very bad precedent in the aftermath of Salmaan Taseer’s death by not seeking to hold his murderer accountable,” says Ali Dayan Hasan, Pakistan director for Human Rights Watch. “There has been no movement on the case, and the failure to prosecute and convict the self-confessed murderer is a sign of both incompetence and an appeasement of extremists.”
It is this form of surrender, Hasan says, that emboldens further lawlessness in Pakistan.
“Very well written by Omar Waraich,” comments Hemingway. “I hadn’t realized, for instance, that Taseer’s family had faced further threats or that the trial wasn’t being run fairly.
“I realize that America has its own troubles, particularly with the economy. I understand that reporters here are focused internally and obsessed with politics. But Americans also need to know what’s going on in Pakistan.”