The son of a Pakistani governor who was assassinated in 2011 because of his support for imprisoned Christian mother Asia Bibi told religious freedom advocates that there are over 200 people jailed in Pakistan for blasphemy.
Shaan Taseer, the son of late Punjab governor Salmaan Taseer, delivered a powerful address at the State Department’s second Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom on Wednesday — the second day of a three-day summit touted as the largest of its kind ever held.
“Eight years later, the woman that my father gave his life to defend has been found innocent by the highest court in the country,” Taseer said. ”For this ladies and gentlemen, I want to congratulate each and every one of you. Asia Bibi’s acquittal is a victory for humanity, it’s a victory for human dignity and it is a victory for common sense.”
Although the world rejoiced when Bibi (real name is Aasiya Noreen) was acquitted by Pakistan’s Supreme Court last fall after spending nearly a decade on death row over an accusation that she insulted Islam’s prophet, Taseer warned that there is much work still left to be done.
“As we celebrate these victories, we must be mindful of the challenges ahead,” he stressed. “While Asia Bibi — the world’s most famous prisoner victim of blasphemy is a free woman — I want you all to know that there are 200 Asia Bibis in jail accused of blasphemy law in Pakistan today and these are only the reported cases.”
Taseer has followed in his father’s footsteps in calling for an end to Pakistan’s blasphemy laws, which are regularly used by Muslims in the Muslim-majority country to take advantage of or settle scores with religious minorities.
Under Pakistan’s penal code section 295, those accused of insulting Islam’s prophet Muhammad or desecrating a Quran could be subject to imprisonment or even capital punishment.
Bibi, an illiterate farm laborer, was accused by Muslim colleagues of insulting Muhammad during an argument, a claim that she has denied. In 2010, she was sentenced to death by a Pakistan court.
“My father as the governor at the time said, ‘No, not on my watch. I will not let this injustice take place for this woman, not when I am governor,’” Taseer told the crowd. “He threw his weight behind Asia Bibi, he met with her in prison. He showed her that he stood for her. He called for a presidential pardon given the weaknesses in the case. And, he called for reform of the blasphemy law.”
Although he was a Muslim himself, Salmaan Taseer’s advocacy drew the ire of radicals in Pakistan who demanded he issue a retraction. When Taseer refused to retract his support for Bibi and his calls for blasphemy reform, a fatwa (religious proclamation) was issued calling for his death.
“Many well-wishers, including myself, caring for his well-being asked him to reconsider retraction,” Taseer admitted. “This is his response that he wrote out by way of a tweet three days before his death. He said: ‘I stand with the weakest of the weak but I have been asked to retract and also refused. Not if I am the last man standing.’”
On Jan. 4, 2011, Taseer was shot 27 times by his bodyguard, Mumtaz Qadri. Since Shaan Taseer has taken up his father’s fight in calling for an end to blasphemy laws and has been active in grassroots projects, he too has had a fatwa issued against him.
But nonetheless, Taseer continues to speak out and provide aid to religious minorities facing persecution in the South Asian nation.
Speaking of the more than 200 other victims of Pakistan’s blasphemy laws, Taseer said that they include victims who are elderly, children, poor, mentally challenged and physically challenged. He stressed that most of them are illiterate and in jail without a trial or due process.
“If we claim to be working towards a world free of religious persecution, then this is the frontline of that work,” Taseer said. “These are the foot soldiers fighting for the world that we believe in, for a new and progressive society free of religious persecution.”
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SOURCE: Christian Post, Samuel Smith