01/05/2011, 00.00
PAKISTAN
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Anyone who is against the blasphemy law puts his life at risk, Lahore archbishop says

by Fareed Khan
The late governor of Punjab was buried today in Cavalry Ground cemetery in Lahore. High-ranking government officials took part in the ceremony. Speaking to AsiaNews, Mgr Saldhana, archbishop of Lahore, condemned Taseer’s murder, urging everyone, including the media, to speak out against the blasphemy law.

Lahore (AsiaNews) – “Salman Taseer fought for the release of Asia Bibi and spoken out for the repeal of the blasphemy law. I think this was the main reason for his murder,” said Mgr Lawrence John Saldanha, archbishop of Lahore, president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Pakistan and head of the National Justice and Peace Commission. “In Pakistan, the number of people whose life is threatened is growing. With this murder, it is clear that anyone that opposes the blasphemy law is at risk,” said the archbishop, who sent a letter of condolences to Governor Taseer’s widow today.

A member of the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), Salman Taseer was appointed governor of Punjab Province in 2008. He was killed yesterday by a member of his security detail outside a café in Islamabad. Local media quoted his assassin as saying that he killed the political leader because of his criticism of the blasphemy law.

His body was laid to rest today in the Cavalry Ground cemetery in Lahore. Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani, a number of federal ministers and ordinary people from all walks of life participated in his funeral.

“The entire Christian community is concerned about what happened. It condemns the murder of Taseer, who was a great man,” Mgr Saldanha said. For the archbishop, everyone should raise their voice against intolerance and extremism, including the media.

The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) condemned the governor’s murder, expressing grief and alarm at his death and calling it a manifestation of growing intolerance in society.

Many other human rights organisations also slammed the assassination and expressed sorrow over Taseer’s death.

The murder “must be condemned by all sane people”. Everyone must be “alarmed at the ever-growing shadow of intolerance and violence in society,” HRCP chairperson Mehdi Hasan said. The authorities, he added, must carry out a thorough investigation to establish the killer’s motives. 

It would be exceedingly unfortunate if it turns out that the governor’s call for sanity following the death sentence of Asia Bibi’s on charges of blasphemy or differences with political opponents in any way led to his assassination,” the HRCP statement also read.

Minority Affairs minister Shahbaz Bhatti, a Catholic, also condemned the killing, saying that the governor’s stance against the Blasphemy Laws led to his death.

The minister declared a two-week period of mourning by the country’s religious minorities.

In a statement to AsiaNews Mr Bhatti minister also called for a thorough investigation into the killing, stating that radical Islamic organisations that issued religious decrees against Governor Taseer should be held to account.

“It is these elements that are creating anarchy in the country,” the minister stated. “This murder is the result of instigation in which some religious circles advocated the governor's murder,” Bhatti explained.

In recent years, Taseer was one of the strongest voices of moderation in the country. He opposed the blasphemy law, religious extremism as well as the rise of the Taleban and al-Qaeda.

In the last few months, he pleaded on behalf of Asia Bibi, a Christian woman from Punjab sentenced to death for blasphemy, and this despite criticism from his own party.

He had recently visited her in prison and had called on the president to grant her a pardon, an action stopped by court order.

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