ISLAMABAD, January 5, 2011 ( – The governor of the state of Punjab, Pakistan, was murdered by an Islamic extremist yesterday for denouncing the government’s blasphemy law. In November a Christian woman, Asia Bibi, was sentenced to be executed under the law for having defended her faith from insults by Muslims in the same state.

Governor Salman Taseer was shot by one of his own security guards, 26-year-old Mumtaz Qadri, who said that he was outraged by the governor’s opposition to the blasphemy law. In recent weeks, Islamic extremists have protested a proposal by the government to amend the law, which is alleged to have become a tool of persecution against religious minorities.

While the Pakistani government denounced the murder, a group of 500 Muslim scholars issued an explicit statement endorsing the killing of Taseer. During initial court hearings Qadri was kissed and showered with flower petals by numerous supporters.

“We pay rich tributes and salute the bravery, valor and faith of Mumtaz Qadri,” declared the Jamaat-e-Ahl-e-Sunnat group in a statement issued to the press. They added that “there should be no expression of grief or sympathy on the death of the governor, as those who support blasphemy of the Prophet are themselves indulging in blasphemy.”

Extremist Islamic groups have held a national strike to protest the proposed repeal of the law, even though Pakistan’s ruling party has renounced plans to do so.  The groups have also demanded the execution of Bibi, who was arrested in 2009 after defending her faith against Muslim women who she said were taunting her for her Christianity. She denies having insulted Mohammed. 

Although senior Pakistani officials have admitted that Asia’s sentence is unjust, the Supreme Court has ruled that she cannot be pardoned until her appeals process is finished.

Extremist clerics have threatened to stage nationwide protests against the government if Bibi is not executed.  One cleric has even offered a reward of more than $5,000 for her death.  Analysts fear that the conflict could further destabilize the world’s only Islamic nuclear power, a country that has an estimated 80 atomic weapons.


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