Pakistan: leading defender of Christians killed

Salman Taseer

Salman Taseer

The governor of Pakistan's Punjab province, Salman Taseer, 66, a leading human rights campaigner was killed today by one of his own bodyguards, in the capital, Islamabad. Mr Taseer was shot several times at point blank range as he was getting into his car at a popular market.

After the shooting,  the guard surrendered to police telling them he had killed Mr Taseer because of the governor's opposition to Pakistan's blasphemy laws. In recent weeks Mr Taseer has been fighting to save a Christian woman, Asia Bibi,sentenced to death under the country's blasphemy laws. She argued that she was falsely accused following an argument with a Muslim woman who objected to sharing a drinking font with a Christian.

Speaking on Twitter on 31 December Mr Taseer wrote: "I was under huge pressure sure 2 cow down b4 rightist pressure on blasphemy. Refused. Even if I'm the last man standing,"

Human rights workers say Pakistan has been robbed of a "rare voice of courage" -  who championed women's rights and supported minorities.

Nasir Saeed, a campaigner for the abolition of the blasphemy laws, said: "It's a great loss for Pakistani religious minorities, because Salman Taseer was a vocal about minority rights, changes to blasphemy law on several occasions, and on the release of Asiya Bibi from prison particularly," said Mr Saeed, the director of the Centre for Legal Aid, Assistance and Settlement.

"The killing is a terrorist act against the Christians of Pakistan and it is a serious attempt to stop any possible changes to blasphemy law," he said.

Mr Taseer, he added, had petitioned the President to change the law and there was a danger that his plea will now be ignored.

"This is very dark day for Christians in Pakistan," said Mr Saeed. "This is an act of oppression and of humiliation of the entire community and it is taking away from them the chance from to be represented and to be heard."