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Freedom House condemns killing of Punjab governor

(Freedom House/IFEX) - Washington - January 4, 2011 - Freedom House strongly condemns the brutal killing of Governor Salman Taseer of the Punjab Province of Pakistan, who was murdered because of his support for the repeal of the country's archaic blasphemy law, and strongly urges the Pakistani government to repeal the law immediately.

Salman Taseer was reportedly assassinated by a member of his security detail while leaving his home in the Pakistani capital of Islamabad. The man who has taken credit for the killing, Malik Mumtaz Hussain Qadri, admitted that it was because the governor had criticized Pakistan's blasphemy law. Openly opposed to the law, Taseer recently called on President Zardari to pardon Asia Bibi, a Christian woman recently sentenced to death after she was accused of blasphemy.

"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 Paula Schriefer, Director of Advocacy at Freedom House. "Freedom House strongly condemns the senseless killing of Salman Taseer, who admirably opposed the damaging blasphemy law, and urges the Pakistani government to repeal it immediately."

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. Pakistan is one of world's only countries whose blasphemy law includes the death penalty. Pakistan was one of seven countries examined in a recent study by Freedom House that analyzed how governments use blasphemy and hate speech laws to legitimize crackdowns on minority groups, dissidents and other divergent views under the pretext of maintaining 'social harmony.'

Pakistan is ranked Not Free in Freedom in the World 2010, Freedom House's survey of political rights and civil liberties, and Not Free in Freedom of the Press 2010.
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