03/09/2016, 13.23
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For Pakistani Catholics, Shahbaz Taseer’s release after five years gives hope for the future

by Shafique Khokhar

After almost five years of captivity, the son of the former governor – killed for his opposition to Islamic extremism – was released. Now he is in a safe place with his family. “Perhaps this release is a sign of the times, mature enough for a necessary change of course strongly advocated by Pakistan’s civil society,” said a Justice and Peace official. For a human rights activist, “authorities seem to be on the right path, but they have a long way to go”.

Islamabad (AsiaNews) – The release of Shahbaz Taseer, son of the governor of Punjab killed because he opposed Islamic extremism, "is a positive sign for Pakistan and Islam. From my point of view, the Pakistani government has realised what must be its role. Perhaps this release is a sign of the times, mature enough for a necessary change of course strongly advocated by Pakistan’s civil society,” said Kashif Aslam, national coordinator of the Episcopal Commission for Justice and Peace, who spoke to AsiaNews.

Gunmen abducted Shahbaz Taseer on 26 August 2011. On 29 February 2016, his father’s murderer, Mumtaz Qadri, was hanged. The latter was one of the governor’s bodyguards.

Salman Taseer was assassinated in early 2011 for his opposition to Pakistan’s blasphemy laws, also known as ‘black laws,’ and for his defence of Asia Bibi, a 45-year-old Christian mother of five, who was sentenced to death for blasphemy and is waiting for her appeal to be heard.

The Punjab governor strongly supported the campaign for Bibi’s release, along with Shahbaz Bhatti, a Catholic and Federal Minorities Minister who was also killed by extremist gunmen.

Counter-terror police recovered Mr Taseer from a compound north of Quetta, following a tip off. When agents entered the building they found only the hostage.

Some believe that a ransom was paid to the Pakistani Taliban, who are suspected of the kidnapping, or that keeping him had become too dangerous. The young man is now with his family (pictured) in a safe location.

“The road towards Pakistan’s normalisation is long,” said Aslam, "but I think that Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif will be able to follow it. He is a mature politician and can do more for this society’s stability.”

Samson Salamat, a Christian activist who heads Rawadari Tehreek (Movement for Tolerance) is less optimistic. "I think it is early to say that it is a positive development. There are many concrete things to do that have instead been delayed.”

For example, "officially banned terrorist groups are still operating, hate speech against minorities is not punished and no policies to de-radicalise society have been adopted. If the state does not intervene with effective measures to stop the culture of bombs and guns, we have no hope,” Salamat said. “Of course, Anchorthe authorities seems to be on the right path, but they have a long way to go."

Naumana Suleman, coordinator of the Centre for Social Justice, believes that today should be devoted to the Taseer family. "Shahbaz’s liberation is great news, not only for his family but also for the friends and supporters of the late governor.”

“I hope,” she added, “that this event will lead to the release of many other 'political' prisoners, like Ali Haider Gilani, the son of our former prime minister, and many others in a similar situation."

For his part, Yousaf Raza Gilani expressed hope that his son “AnchorAli Gilani will also be recovered soon”.

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