Developments around Taseer killing disturb liberal Pakistanis

Islamabad, Jan 5

The emergence of Facebook pages eulogising the assassin of Governor Salmaan Taseer and praise from Islamic clerics for the killer have outraged liberal Pakistanis, who today said tolerance and space for discourse on religious and political issues was shrinking.

Taseer was gunned down in an upscale market in the heart of Islamabad yesterday by one of his guards who was angered by the outspoken Governor’s criticism of the blasphemy law.

Chilling footage aired on news channels showed Malik Mumtaz Hussain Qadri, the assassin, saying that the punishment for insulting the Prophet Mohammed was death.

Within hours of the assassination, several disrespectful pages popped up on social networking website Facebook, celebrating Taseer”s death and praising the action of Qadri.

One such page was titled: “Salute to the greatness of Ghazi Malik Mumtaz Qadri”.

Several pages gained hundreds of followers within a space of hours.

An influential grouping of scholars and clerics issued a statement praising Qadri and asking Muslims not to attend or lead the funeral prayer for Taseer.

Taseer”s violent death was a “message that the space for rational discourse on sensitive issues had shrunk even further,” said Raza Rumi, the editor of the Friday Times magazine and one of Pakistan”s leading bloggers.

“This assassination marks a make-or-break point and Pakistan has to make a choice. If the country is to move towards progress, we have to go on fighting this mindset,” Rumi told PTI.

Both opponents and supporters of the blasphemy law introduced during late military ruler Zia-ul-Haq’s regime in the 1980s as part of his bid to appease religious hardliners to strengthen his grip on power have used the Internet to air their views.

Taseer, who aggressively used Twitter to air his views, had made it clear that attacks from hardliners would not deter him from criticising the blasphemy law and fighting for the rights of minorities.

He earned the wrath of clerics after he openly backed a call to pardon Asia Bibi, a 45-year-old Christian woman sentenced to death for insulting Prophet Mohammed.

Beena Sarwar, an editor of the Jang media group, noted that several Facebook pages praising Qadri were taken down following protests from the people of Pakistan.

This, she said, proved that a sizeable number of Pakistanis had opposed the disturbing pages.

However, Sarwar too acknowledged that the space for people to debate about sensitive issues like the blasphemy laws was shrinking. .

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