The son of a politician who was slain for his public support of Christian mother Asia Bibi has spoken out about the vast number of people who are still on death row after being accused of blasphemy.
Shaan Taseer is the son of Punjab governor Salmaan Taseer, who was shot dead in 2011 by one of his own bodyguards after he spoke out in support of Bibi.
At the State Department’s second Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom on Wednesday, Taseer spoke of Bibi’s monumental legal case, during which she was acquitted of all the charges by Pakistan’s Supreme Court.
Honored to be speaking at the Second Annual Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom this Thursday at the @StateDept. Grounded in our nation’s founding principles, our Administration will always prioritize the protection of religious freedom!
— Vice President Mike Pence (@VP) July 15, 2019
“Eight years later, the woman that my father gave his life to defend has been found innocent by the highest court in the country,” Taseer declared, according to the Christian Post. ”For this ladies and gentlemen, I want to congratulate each and every one of you. Asia Bibi’s acquittal is a victory for humanity, it’s a victory for human dignity and it is a victory for common sense.”
Taseer also personally raised the issue with the President in the Oval Office:
Thanks @ShaanTaseer for reminding @realDonaldTrump to take up Pakistan's blasphemy laws & persecution of religious minorities – especially Ahmadi Muslims & Christians – under these laws with PM @ImranKhanPTI in his upcoming meeting next week. #PakistanForAll pic.twitter.com/waxtozXa6l
— Kashif N Chaudhry (@KashifMD) July 18, 2019
Despite being fully acquitted of all charges against her last October, Bibi was not allowed to flee the country until May, following numerous attempts by Islamist radicals to have the courts reconsider her case. And while it was a huge victory for religious freedom, Taseer noted that there is plenty more work to do.
“As we celebrate these victories, we must be mindful of the challenges ahead,” he said. “While Asia Bibi — the world’s most famous prisoner victim of blasphemy is a free woman — I want you all to know that there are 200 Asia Bibis in jail accused of blasphemy law in Pakistan today and these are only the reported cases.”
— Shaan Taseer (@ShaanTaseer) July 15, 2019
“My father as the governor at the time said, ‘No, not on my watch. I will not let this injustice take place for this woman, not when I am governor,’” Taseer declared to the packed crowd, noting that his heroic dad “threw his weight behind Asia Bibi” and “met with her in prison.”
An honor being with Nobel Peace Prize winner @NadiaMuradBasee at the 2nd Annual Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom. Her speech reminded us that Yazidis still need our help – thousands are still missing & few have returned home. #IRFMinisterial #ReligiousFreedom pic.twitter.com/f2MrG1sXyH
— Nadine Maenza (@nadinemaenza) July 16, 2019
“He showed her that he stood for her,” Taseer added. “He called for a presidential pardon given the weaknesses in the case. And, he called for reform of the blasphemy law.”
What does the blasphemy law actually say?
According to the Penal Code itself, 295-B refers to the prohibiting of “Defiling, etc., of Holy Qur’an,” and 295-C is in reference to the “use of derogatory remarks, etc., in respect of the Holy Prophet.” Other violations not specific to Islam contained in Pakistan’s criminal laws include “trespassing on burial places” and “disturbing religious assembly.”
Those who have chosen to support Bibi’s cause have faced grave consequences. In addition to the threat against Bibi, her family and the justices involved in her acquittal, other prominent politicians have lost their lives in the pursuit of religious freedom.
Just two months after Taseer’s killing, Christian politician and outspoken critic of the blasphemy laws, Shahbaz Bhatti, was also assassinated — shot dead by the Pakistani Taliban as he traveled to work.
How many Christians have been killed as a result of this controversial law?
According to Aid to the Church in Need, some 23 Christians have been killed after being accused of blasphemy between the years 1990 and 2017.
Many others, however, are still on trial. Sawan Masih is just one example. In 2014, when he was just 26 years old, Masih was set upon by vigilantes after allegedly insulting the prophet Muhammad during an argument with a friend. As a result, Lahore’s Christian Joseph colony district was attacks by thousands of hardline Islamists, causing many local residents to flee their homes.
Pastor Andrew Brunson shows up at conference
Also in attendance at this week’s Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom was pastor Andrew Brunson, who returned to the United States in July last year having been imprisoned in Turkey for more than eighteen months.
“For me to be back with my wife and my children, this is what I wanted,” the pastor told Religion News Service.
“It’s wonderful that I can be here in person and I’m free,” he said. “And I’m very grateful for that.”
Recalling some of his experience of being arrested and thrown in jail for his faith, Brunson concluded: “my goal in life is to tell people about Jesus, so, that will continue.”