In yet another bloody blow to the forces of moderation in the Muslim world, the governor of Pakistan’s Punjab province, Salman Taseer, has been assassinated by a member of his elite security guard in Islamabad. Governor Taseer, a prominent member of the ruling Pakistan People’s Party, was killed because he openly opposed the country’s draconian blasphemy law and called for the pardon of Asia Bibi, a Christian mother of five who was sentenced to death under the section 295c of the law by a Pakistani court in November.
Christians, Ahmadiyas, and other minorities constitute half of those accused under the blasphemy laws, even though they are only 5 percent of the population. Since their testimony counts for less than that of a Muslim in the country’s sharia courts, they can be convicted solely on the basis of the testimony of one or more Muslim accusers, and the law is very often used to settle personal grievances. Bibi’s case follows this pattern. Taseer, himself a Muslim, had called the blasphemy law a “black law” because of the many abuses it gives rise to. He was one of the few officials brave enough to speak out in the face of angry protest by the law’s Islamist supporters.
Within the United Nations, Pakistan has led an annual effort to promote an international blasphemy law, called an “anti-defamation” law, to protect Islam. Taseer’s murder is an important victory for extremism and should be recognized as such by U.S. policy makers.
— Nina Shea and Paul Marshall are senior fellows of the Hudson Institute’s Center for Religious Freedom and co-authors of Silenced, a forthcoming book on Islamist blasphemy laws (Oxford University Press).