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Islamic Group Calls for Death of Son of Murdered Pakistani Politician After He Criticized Blasphemy Law

Blasphemy law supporters, Pakistan
Blasphemy law supporters, Pakistan
Shaan Taseer was condemned after recording Christmas message that was critical of the country's law

Shaan Taseer, the son of a prominent Pakistani politician assassinated over blasphemy allegations, is himself now the target of a police case and a fatwa calling for his killing after he recorded a Christmas message criticizing the country's blasphemy law.

Mr. Taseer, a human-rights activist, was condemned in the religious edict by an Islamic group from the country's mainstream religious tradition, after he recorded the message for Pakistan's Christian minority.

In the video message, he called the country's blasphemy law "inhumane" and expressed sympathy for Asia Bibi, a Christian woman sentenced to death by Pakistan's courts on blasphemy charges.

In Pakistan, blasphemy is illegal and it carries the death penalty. Activists say that the threat of being accused of blasphemy has created a climate of fear, where anyone can be targeted and the law can't be discussed.

"I'm now in a position something like Salman Rushdie," said Mr. Taseer, referring to the novelist who has had to live in hiding since a 1989 edict condemned him to death. "They have called for my assassination."

His father, Salmaan Taseer, then governor of Punjab province, was shot dead in 2011 by his own bodyguard, Mumtaz Qadri, after he criticized Pakistan's blasphemy laws. Mr. Qadri was executed last year after a Supreme Court verdict, but his funeral was attended by huge crowds, and his followers are building an ornate shrine just outside Islamabad over his grave.

According to the fatwa, issued by a group called Tehreek Labaik Ya Rasool Allah, the younger Mr. Taseer has "crossed all limits of insulting God and the prophet" and is now "condemnable to death". The group, which is legal, is from the Barelvi sect, the biggest Muslim denomination in the country, which is normally considered moderate but on the issue of blasphemy, it is the most hardline.

"In no unclear terms, they've told their supporters to prepare another Mumtaz Qadri," said Mr. Taseer, adding that he had received hundreds of messages of hate and death threats since he was accused.

Police in Lahore also registered a case against Mr. Taseer under the blasphemy law. The case is under a section of the law meant for hate speech.

According to the charge, dated Dec. 30, police found a recording on a memory stick left outside a police station in which a person "ridiculed a religious law, which may cause provocation."

Nasir Hameed, the police officer in charge of the Islampura police station in Lahore where the case is registered, said officers were investigating further. The case doesn't name Shaan Taseer, but he identifies himself by name in the recording.

"Having a fatwa and a blasphemy case against you is putting a target on your back," said Jibran Nasir, a lawyer and activist. "These fanatics can motivate people to get you anywhere."

Mr. Taseer, aged 45, is currently outside Pakistan and asked for his location not to be revealed. Activists fear that the fatwa still puts him in danger abroad and also prevents his ability to return.

In Pakistan, crowds often surround police stations to pressure police into registering blasphemy cases, in which both Muslims and non-Muslims are targeted. Activists say that the evidence is usually flimsy and the blasphemy law is regularly used to settle personal scores. Allegations of blasphemy have repeatedly in the past motivated mobs to kill the accused.

Separately, the same religious group threatened on Dec. 31 to issue a fatwa against leading opposition politician Imran Khan, unless he apologizes for a supposed insult to the Prophet Mohammad in a speech. There was no immediate response from Mr. Khan's spokesperson.

Source: Wall Street Journal, January 3, 2017

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