Pakistani politician assassinated by his own bodyguard over blasphemy

Salman Taseer was the governor of Pakistan’s most populous state from 2008 until he was shot and killed today. The main suspect is Malik Mumtaz Hussain Qadri, an elite security guard who police say was angry at Taseer over his opposition to Pakistan’s anti-blasphemy legislation. Here is the law in question from Pakistan’s criminal code:

Whoever, with the deliberate intention of wounding the religious feelings of any person, utters any word or makes any sound in the hearing of that person or makes any gesture in the sight of that person or places any object in the sight of that person, shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to one year, or with fine, or with both.
-§ 298

§ 298 then elaborates into some of the details, and there’s also more in § 295. The punishments vary from a fine up to death. It’s strange that there’s such a wide range since none of the specifics seem like they should be crimes at all: drawing Mohammed or defaming him, proselytizing for the wrong version of Islam, defiling the Qu’ran, stuff like that.

The death penalty associated with blasphemy in Pakistan has never actually been carried out. So when ignorant people like Qadri get worked up over efforts to reform these kinds of backwoods laws, they’re not necessarily looking for the government to actually execute people accused blasphemers because, after all, they never did. What they get out of it is a society where vigilantism and witch hunts are within social norms. You won’t automatically attract ridicule by making an offhand comment about how the Ahmadiyya should be persecuted because the law and the government are on your side, after all. But if they’re not, then it’s just that much more difficult to popularize an intolerant point of view.

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