01/09/2018, 18.17
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Salman Taseer’s heirs commemorated him in private, oppose extremism

by Shafique Khokhar

Human Rights Focus Pakistan held a ceremony in Faisalabad. Christians and Muslims of good will work across the country against discrimination and the persecution of minorities. Taseer’s struggle continues with others bearing the torch.

Faisalabad (AsiaNews) – Across Pakistan, the heirs of Salman Taseer, those who carry on the fight against discrimination and injustice against religious minorities, have been forced to commemorate the seventh anniversary of his death in private.

Taseer was governor of Punjab when he was killed on 4 January 2011 by a bodyguard because he had criticised the "black law" on blasphemy and defended Asia Bibi.

Many people of good will, both Christians and Muslims, are working behind the scenes across the country to continue his battles.

Often nothing is heard about this. Some of the people involved prefer to stay in the shadows for security reasons. The fear of retribution, however, has not made them retreat from the belief in a just society that respects everybody.

Some activists told AsiaNews that Taseer showed that “death can end a person’s life but not a cause. The false accusations of blasphemy must end; otherwise, Pakistan’s image will be only that of a country that violates religious freedom. We will continue to raise our voices for oppressed communities. Justice must be the same for all citizens."

Yesterday in Faisalabad, members of Human Rights Focus Pakistan (HRFP) gathered to remember the governor's sacrifice.

Political activists Raja Thomas and Robin Daniel, social activist Abrar Younas, teacher John Victor and several Muslims who withheld their names took part in the event.

All the participants agree on one thing: Salman Taseer’s legacy is a source of encouragement to fight even more for the rights of Pakistan's minorities.

For Taseer, "problems started when Asia Bibi was sentenced to death for blasphemy,” said HRFP president Naveed Walter. “As governor of the Punjab, he decided to intervene against this unjust ruling by a lower court. He paid a visit to the woman in prison and during a press conference declared that he would take the case of the Christian mother to the president, asking for a pardon."

For Robin Daniel, a Christian activist and president of the National Minorities' Alliance Pakistan, "most Islamic radicals condemned the statements of the politician and encouraged young people [against him] by saying that those who help a person who stains with contempt the Prophet Muhammad is himself a blasphemer.”

“The bodyguard acted under such influence, and killed him in Islamabad,” Daniel added. “The practice of provoking young people in the name of Islam has not ended. Even today, weapons are used for personal or political ends, as evinced in the recent siege of capital by an extremist Islamic movement."

Christians are not alone in trying to change the blasphemy laws; many Muslims are doing that as well. One of them is secular activist Iftikhar Ahmed. "It is tragic that the promoters of the blasphemy laws abuse them to kill innocent people,” he said.

“Because of intolerance, Pakistan is becoming the hub of extremism, which is the greatest obstacle on the path of progress of this society. Radicals are stripping the true essence of religion, which is peace and unity."

All over the country many of Salman Taseer’s “heirs” can be found: ordinary people working in silence for the common good.

They organise peace events between various communities and offer legal and paralegal aid to victims of discrimination.

For example, in cases of persecution, they activate a solidarity network, spreading the news via mobile phones or calling directly people who mediate and resolve conflicts.

These heirs celebrate together the religious festivals of their respective communities – whether Christmas, Easter, Ramadan – and promote peace and inclusion.

Some of the "heirs" worthy of note are HRFP president himself, Naveed Walter; Michelle Chaudhry, director of the Cecil & Iris Chaudhry Foundation; and Irfan Mufti, deputy director of the South Asia Partnership Pakistan (SAP-PK).

From his office in Faisalabad, Walter travels across Punjab province to offer legal advice and financial support to marginalised families and communities, always on the side of victims and the poor.

"After the governor’s martyrdom, we continued with further momentum,” he explained. HRFP “has a REAT Helpline, a toll-free number (0800-09494) that can be reached at any time, day or night, answering calls on persecution and emergencies of all kinds. Every year we receive about a thousand calls and we try to provide every possible assistance to ensure protection."

Michelle Chaudhry's foundation deals with families. It adopted the three children of Shama and Shahzad, a young Christian couple stoned and burnt alive in the brick factory where Shahzad worked.

"You can silence a man but not his vision,” she said. “We will keep alive his legacy and we will fight without fear to promote a tolerant Pakistan, Jinnah’s Pakistan*.

SAP-PAK is an association that monitor textbooks for material that spreads hatred. It publishes findings on the conditions of minorities in all the provinces and exerts pressure on lawmakers to promote laws that protect their rights.

In Punjab alone, it is active in 900 villages, where it takes care of the most disadvantaged segments of the population, such as workers in brick factories and street sweepers.

For its deputy director Mufti, "Salman Taseer was a true secular and daring visionary. He worked in a system that was becoming oppressed by religious orthodoxy.”

“Giving support to minorities and speaking out against the discriminatory blasphemy laws, he showed his courage and resolve to go to the root of hatred, persecution and extremist tendencies. His sacrifice has given us new courage and strength to work on his mission with rigour."

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