Lahore (AsiaNews) – An anti-terrorism court yesterday imposed a five-year sentence on five people who had attacked a vigil held by civil society groups to mark the fifth anniversary of the death of Punjab Governor Salman Taseer.
The liberal politician was killed by a bodyguard because he had described the country’s controversial blasphemy legislation as a “black law” during a television interview in which he had also defended Asia Bibi, a Christian mother imprisoned for allegedly insulting the Prophet Muhammad. Taseer’s son, Shahbaz, was also kidnapped in 2011 and is still missing.
The case began on the evening of 4 January 2015, when a torchlight procession and a cameraman filming the event were attacked. The entire nation watched the 20-minute assault live.
Saeeda Deep was taking out candles to honour the memory of the assassinated governor when a group of youth charged her group with batons.
“I received blows to my shoulder. A few members of our group pulled me away and we watched them [the attackers] tear up posters and banners of the late governor. I was afraid and didn’t know what to do; we were not expecting this”, Deep told AsiaNews.
When police arrived, the attackers ran away. “We refused to leave the police station and stayed there until 11:30 that night, i.e. until the police accepted to file a first information report”, said Deep, who is a supporter of the Institute of Peace and Secular Studies.
Court proceedings were painful. Religious extremists humiliated the plaintiffs and journalists during the hearings. “The accused kept laughing while the statements were being heard from an attacked journalist,” Deep said.
“One of the group members showed me the middle finger as the judge paused for a moment. They were of the same age as my children; I felt helpless. This is what happens when religion is used in politics and people who misinterpret it are in authority”.
Following the attack, which sent a chill among Christian human rights groups, Deep organized weekend protests for three consecutive months at Lahore’s Liberty Round About.
However, the latest ruling is encouraging for human rights groups in the Muslim country and has, to some extent, renewed their faith in the system.
Samson Salamat, another plaintiff in the case, called it a good start. He was injured to his right wrist when one of the assailants, his face concealed by a scarf, snatched away a poster of the governor.
“We’ll teach you a lesson for marking the brsi (death anniversary) of a kafir (infidel)”, he heard the attacker say.
“We appreciate the courts for dealing with religious fanatics and people who organize mob violence,” said Salamat, who heads the Centre for Human Rights Education.
“However, the main culprit, who belongs to a madrassa, is still at large and we demand his urgent trial. We also salute the media for shooting well-timed footage, which helped in identifying the culprits”, he added.