Human rights defenders have paid tribute to Salmaan Taseer on the eleventh anniversary of the assassination of the former Punjab governor.
Taseer was gunned down on Jan 4, 2011 in Islamabad by his police bodyguard, Malik Mumtaz Hussain Qadri, who claimed that he had killed the governor because of his criticism of the country’s blasphemy laws.
Saeeda Diep, founder of the Institute of Peace and Secular Studies, stopped organising the annual vigil for Taseer last year after local police stopped them citing security concerns.
“We were not allowed to leave the office. There is a security threat from clerics. The state-sponsored actors have brought our country to this point. My heart pains today. Some activists wanted to gather in silence but I didn’t want to endanger their lives,” she told Kross Konnection.
“We can’t speak freely. Human rights have become ambiguous amid the undefined red lines. Minorities have become more vulnerable amid the ongoing persecution. Forced conversions of underage minority girls have become everyday news. We couldn’t enforce any legislation against the misuse of blasphemy laws. My head is down in shame in front of our minority siblings,” she said.
Diep was among those attacked by supporters of the recently unbanned rightwing Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan in a vigil for Taseer in 2015.
Sahiwal-based Catholic activist Ashiknaz Khokhar paid tribute to Taseer in a Facebook post.
“He was the first and strong voice to prevent anti-human incidents as in Sialkot. He warned against those making people fool in the name of religion. He endangered his life and was murdered,” he said.
“Irrespective of party affiliation, the barbaric scenes of these days could have been reduced. Or else anyone can endanger your life or your loved ones. He can become a hero after killing you. Salmaan Taseer you were right!”
Pakistan People’s Party Chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari also issued a statement on the party’s website.
“The party leader had sacrificed his life for the promotion of tolerance and rights of minorities in the country. The political struggle of Shaheed Salmaan Taseer is incomparable to any other. The day of martyrdom of Taseer reminds us that we have to save Pakistan from the fire of extremism and terrorism. We have to stop the misuse of laws,” said Zardari.
TLP, which adheres to the Barelvi sect of Islam, was formed by clerics who opposed the execution in 2016 of Taseer’s assassin, Qadri. This October, TLP supporters staged a “long march” from Lahore to Islamabad to demand the release of their party’s leader, Saad Hussain Rizvi, and renewed calls for the French ambassador’s expulsion.
To quell these protests in which 11 people, including policemen, were killed, the government reached an agreement with the party, effectively lifting the year-long ban, releasing more than 2,000 jailed TLP members as well as the part’s leader, and allowing the party to run in the upcoming elections.