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Pakistani governor who defended Christian assassinated

Country/Region: Pakistan, South and East Asia

An influential Pakistani governor who campaigned for the release of a Christian woman sentenced to death for blasphemy has been shot dead by one of his own bodyguards.

Salman_Taseer_4X3.jpg

Salman Taseer, governor of Pakistan’s Punjab province and a senior member of the ruling party, was gunned down in the capital Islamabad yesterday (Tuesday).

The Elite Force guard, Malik Mumtaz Hussain Qadri, said that he planned the murder after Governor Taseer spoke out against the country’s controversial “blasphemy law” and defended Aasia Bibi, a Christian mother of five sentenced to death under it. He yelled the traditional Islamic war cry “Allahu Akbar” (“god is great”) as he fired around 30 bullets from a sub-machine gun on the 66-year-old governor at close range. Qadri told reporters, “Salman Taseer is a blasphemer and this is the punishment for a blasphemer.” He was arrested along with five other suspects at the scene and has today (Wednesday) been charged with murder, terrorism and violence.

Governor Taseer was killed at the Koshar Market, a popular shopping and cafe spot. He was an outspoken critic of the blasphemy law, describing it as “a slur on the constitution”. The governor was a prominent supporter of Aasia Bibi, visiting her in prison and appealing to President Asif Ali Zadari to pardon her.

Islamists had openly called for his dismissal from office for backing the Christian woman. Friends of the governor say that he knew he was risking his life by speaking out but he refused to be silenced. He wrote on Twitter on 31 December that he was refusing to back down on his opposition to the blasphemy law despite “huge pressure”.

The murder of Governor Taseer follows nationwide protests by Muslim extremists on Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve in defence of the blasphemy law, which is often used against Christians and other non-Muslims. Proposals to change the law in light of Aasia Bibi's case provoked an outcry from certain Muslim groups, who have threatened anarchy if the government pardons Aasia or alters the law.

Thousands of people attended Governor Taseer’s funeral, which took place amid tight security today.

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