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Friday, 13 January 2012

Guest writer Michelle Chaudhry speaks on Exploitation of Blasphemy Law

Michelle Chaudhry (daughter of Former Wing Commander Cecil Chaudhry) Chief Executive for the Iris Foundation,  remembers slain Governor Salman Taseer a year after his assassination:

JANUARY 4 marked the first death anniversary of the former governor of Punjab, Salmaan Taseer, who was assassinated in Islamabad by his bodyguard, a religious fanatic, as the governor dared to speak against Pakistan`s draconian blasphemy laws and chose to render support to Asia Bibi, a poor Christian woman, falsely accused and convicted under these laws.

While some of us, the religious minorities in particular, observed the day remembering Salmaan Taseer by holding special candlelight and prayer vigils, tributes were paid to the brave and courageous Salmaan Taseer who stoodby his principles and sacrificed his life for interfaith harmony, religious freedom and equality for all human beings and, on the other hand, a certain fraction of society held rallies and processions to venerate his murderer.

It was appalling to read how over 1,000 people gathered at the Data Darbar and various other places in Lahore in support of Mumtaz Qadri, the man who killed Salmaan Taseer.

The participants held up portraits of Mumtaz Qadri, chanted slogans in his honour and demanded his release. A resolution was also adopted, requesting President Zardari to declareclemency for Mumtaz Qadri.

They justified Qadri`s act of violence and pledged to follow in his footsteps against every `blasphemer` in other words, blatantly expressing their intention to murder.

I fail to understand what Islam these so-called `defenders of Islam` are following because the Islam that I know forbids murder, the Holy Quran equates the murder of one human being with the murder of the whole of humanity.

Here we have a confessed and convicted murderer whose crime is being idolised by some who are in all practicality showing intent to murder if the needarises. The government chooses to look the other way, while religious fanatics walk the streets, posing a threat to anyone who dares to raise a voice in favour of equality, justice, religious harmony and tolerance.

The government`s inability to take action in this regard disseminates the power that religious extremists have over the government. My question is: is the government prepared to take responsibility if another Salmaan Taseer or Shahaz Bhatti becomes victims of the vigilante? Furthermore, the statement by the Punjab planning and development minister in the PunjabAssembly that `diehard followers of Muhammad (peace be upon him) might not wait for court orders and decide the fate of blasphemers themselves. So my advice to blasphemers is to refrain from committing blasphemy.

Is it to be understood that the minister is suggesting that when it came to blasphemy, anyone is free to act as a prosecutor, judge and executor? We condemn these acts in the strongest possible manner and demand that immediate action be taken, as acts such as these amount to actual incitement to murder, which contravenes the laws of Pakistan and is a punishable offence.

The government must ensure safety and protection of all its citizens without any kind of discrimination whatsoever.

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