Pakistan’s blasphemy laws have left even judges in fear of their lives

Declan Walsh writes:

So he’s going to swing – perhaps. On Saturday a Pakistani judge sentenced Mumtaz Qadri, the police bodyguard who assassinated the Punjab governor Salmaan Taseer, to death by hanging. The young policeman smiled and thanked God. “My dream has come true,” he reportedly said.

It was a predictably theatrical turn from Qadri, a former nobody who murdered Taseer in cowardly fashion – shooting the governor 27 times in the back – and who has since revelled in the notoriety of his blood-stained celebrity. Equally predictable, alas, was the reaction on the streets outside.

Close to the courtroom in Rawalpindi, angry young men attacked a monument to the former prime minister Benazir Bhutto, defacing her image on the spot where she died in a suicide bombing in 2007. Down in Lahore, turbaned men with long sticks surged through the ancient Anarkali bazaar, thrashing traders who refused to shutter their shops in sympathy for Qadri.

Meanwhile the clerics engineering the protests – old men with soft palms and tinder-dry beards – issued po-faced statements decrying the sentence. Qadri was a good Muslim, they insisted, and Taseer got what he deserved. The governor had offended them by advocating reforms to Pakistan’s antiquated blasphemy laws. In particularly they hated him for defending Aasia Bibi, a Christian mother-of-five sentenced to death under those laws last November. He deserved to die, they said.

Taseer’s wife and children, in contrast, were silent. They stayed at home, busy worrying about their son and sibling, Shahbaz. The 27-year-old was kidnapped in August as he purred through Lahore in a sports Mercedes – his father’s old car, in fact. Word has it he is being held in the tribal badlands of Waziristan; whether his captors are religious extremists, common criminals, or both, remains unclear.

The family is also reeling from character assaults. When Taseer was still alive, conservatives circulated photos of his children, lifted from their Facebook pages, showing them engaged in objectionable activity, such as dating and swimming in a swimming pool. After Taseer died, Qadri’s lawyers aired allegations about his sex life, drinking habits and apparent taste for pork – proof, they said, of a licentiousness that justified his cold-blooded murder.

The distasteful spectacle is partly a product of Pakistan’s social gulf. The Taseers inhabit the gilded bubble of a tiny elite whose westernised lives play out in Hello!-style photospreads of society magazines. In fact the Taseers own one of the most popular magazines. But it also goes to the heart of a bigger ideological crisis.

In theory, Pakistan is a country that welcomes all creeds and castes. But in practice it is proving to be anything but.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
Facebooktwitterrss
Facebooktwittermail