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Governor gunned down for opposing blasphemy law

Salman Taseer, the governor of Punjab, was shot dead in the Pakistani capital of Islamabad on 4 January by one of his own bodyguards who opposed reform of Pakistan's blasphemy law, report Freedom House and the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ).

According to the "Guardian", Malik Mumtaz Hussain Qadri yelled "Allahu Akbar" as he emptied two magazines of bullets into Taseer. Photos taken after the shooting showed a calm-looking, curly-bearded man being driven away. In some images he was smiling.

Qadri, who surrendered immediately, said he killed Taseer because of his ardent support for reforms to Pakistan's draconian blasphemy law. Taseer recently called on President Zardari to pardon Asia Bibi, a Christian woman recently sentenced to death after she was accused of insulting the Prophet Mohammed, say Freedom House and IFJ.

"Blasphemy and hate speech laws are so often portrayed by their supporters as a solution to religious conflict. Today's killing is another example of how these laws are instead used to justify violence, including murder," said Freedom House, which is calling for Pakistan to immediately repeal the blasphemy law.

The law is frequently used to legitimise crackdowns on minority groups, dissidents and other divergent views under the pretext of maintaining "social harmony", says Freedom House.

According to the "Guardian", a prominent group of allegedly moderate Islamic scholars - the Jammat-e-Ahl-e-Sunnat group - said that the funeral prayers should not be offered and warned that anyone who expressed grief for Taseer could suffer the same fate.

A draft bill to remove the death penalty from the current blasphemy law in Pakistan's lower house of parliament caused thousands to come out in protest in late December, says Freedom House. Pakistan is one of the world's only countries where blasphemy law includes the death penalty.

The "Guardian" says that Taseer's assassination leaves Bibi, who is awaiting a court appeal in prison, in jeopardy. Human rights campaigners said they feared she could be killed by zealots in jail or on the way to court, as has happened in other blasphemy cases.

According to the "Guardian", Taseer used Twitter to air views that other left-leaning politicians were reluctant to express publicly. On 31 December he wrote, "I was under huge pressure 2 cow down b4 rightest pressure on blasphemy. Refused. Even if I'm the last man standing."

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