Shaan Taseer, one of the Pakistani business tycoons’ has been booked by the Punjab police after his Christmas video message to Asia Bibi, other faith prisoners and the general Christian community of Pakistan went viral.
The blasphemy case was registered against Taseer as a “hate crime” against the state and Islam.
Taseer is the son of Salman Taseer, the former governor of the Punjab province, who was assassinated by his bodyguard on January 4, 2011 for declaring the innocence of Asia Bibi, a well-known Pakistani Christian woman who has been the victim of Pakistan's blasphemy laws. Bibi has been languishing in a Pakistani prison on death row since 2009 for after false claims of blaphemy were made against her by Muslim women in her village.
Salman Taseer campaigned to abrogate Pakistn's blasphemy laws. He was shot and killed by his personal bodyguard Mumtaz Qadri who believed the governor’s stance was “blasphemous.” Qadri was hanged in 2016 after a judgment by the Supreme Court and the rejection of an appeal for mercy by the president of Pakistan. Qadri has since become a national hero among Pakistan’s many extremists.
Salman Taseer's family has remained committed to furthering his vision. “My father died for a great cause and we do not want this cause to end here," said Shaan in an interview. "We will take it forward to try and save the lives of many innocents who are being killed in the name of religion.”
On Christmas, Shaan uploaded a video message to his Facebook page wishing season’s greetings to Asia Bibi and all Pakistani Christians. The video was deemeds “blasphemous” by the Sunni Tehreek organization, an extremist Deobandi group.
Mujahid Abdul Rasool, an Islamic cleric and leader of Lahore chapter of Sunni Tehreek who filed the complaint as well as police confirmed the launch of blasphemy case against Taseer under section 295-A of Pakistan's penal code.
The police initially refused to share the news with media but were pressured by the extremist organization to issue an arrest warrant for Taseer.
According to family members, Taseer’s lawyers contacted senior police officials in Lahore but were rebuffed.
The extremists have also issued a fatwa against Taseer for committing blasphemy due to the fact that Taseer released the video message at Christmastime and called for prayers for Asia Bibi and other victims of blasphemy laws. This, in itself, concluded the extremist, constitutes blasphemy as well as apostasy.
In reponse, Taseer said, “The Punjab police have, in the past, failed to take action against hate speech when it has kicked them in the face like a horse. One is mildly and tragically amused at the alacrity they have shown at the hate they found in a Christmas message.”
About the role of police he added, “They haven’t listened to my lawyer, they are dancing around playing busy.”
Pakistan’s National Action Plan (NAP) was established by the government of Pakistan in January 2015 to curb extremism and its networks operating in Pakistan. One of the points of NAP was related to “hate speech.”
It reads, “There will be a crackdown on hate-speech, and action will be taken against newspapers, magazines contributing to the spread of such speech.”
However, the many violations of this law amidst the abundance of hate speech in the country shows that Pakistan is a country that has law, rules and procedures but only on a conceptual level.
Salman Taseer and his entire family have historically been affiliated with Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), a left-wing and somewhat secular political group. The slain governor was an outspoken representative of this party.
After the assassination of Benazir Bhutto, the leader of PPP in 2007, the party was confined to the Sindh province. Speaking about the current case against Taseer’s case – but without mentioning the case — the chief minister of the Sindh province criticized the federal government over its failure to implement the National Action Plan in its true spirit.
Because of the invisible grip of the Islamist extremists on the entire political structure, any voice raised in support of minorities is curbed with force by government-supported, non-state actors. From time to time, extremist organizations hold rallies to defend blasphemy laws.
The Pakistani government notoriously appeases extremist organizations to strengthen themselves and their power base. For this reason, no government has ever dared to amend the blasphemy laws.
Without losing optimism, there is no such hope of any change in Pakistan's blasphemy laws. These laws are a political tool used by governments in their political quests, by non-state actors to harass marginalized sections of the society and by individuals for their personal vendettas.
Indeed, the laws are massively misused by the majority community. Whosoever tries to speak against blasphemy laws must realize the fact that the minimum consequence is the “death penalty.”
Kaleem Dean is human rights activist and journalist from Pakistan. He currently lives in the UK. He was the publisher of Christian Monitor in Pakistan, a leading Christian newspaper which covers minority issues. He presently writes for various Pakistani papers. Write to him at [email protected]