Tuesday January 10, 2017

Activist Shaan Taseer faces death threat from religious hardliners in Pakistan

Pakistani activist Shaan Taseer.

Pakistani activist Shaan Taseer. (Courtesy of Shaan Taseer)

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Shaan Taseer's father, Salmaan, was murdered in Islamabad in 2011 by his own bodyguard. The shooter targeted the politician because he had criticized the country's blasphemy laws.

"It's not the first time [I've spoken out] and it's certainly not the last time." Shaan Taseer, Pakistan rights advocate

Now, hardline religious groups in Pakistan have issued a similar fatwa against his son. The reason: a video the activist made echoing his father's message.

Shaan Taseer spoke to As It Happens guest host Helen Mann about the threat against his life.

Shaan Taseer at vigil

Pakistani activist Shaan Taseer with his infant son at a memorial last year for his father, Salmaan, who was assassinated in 2011. (Courtesy of Shaan Taseer)

Helen Mann: Mr. Taseer, what did you say in this video you released on Christmas Day?

Shaan Taseer: I wished everyone 'Merry Christmas' and I asked everyone to make a prayer for the victims of religious persecution in Pakistan, specifically Asia Bibi and Nabeel Masih, who have been imprisoned on charges, false charges, of blasphemy. I asked everyone to make a prayer for them and their families and for all other victims of religious persecution in Pakistan who have suffered under the blasphemy law, an inhumane law.

HM: Did you think you were making a controversial statement at the time you released this?

ST: Good question. I have criticized the religious persecution of minorities in Pakistan many times. Why the religious right chose to pick up on this particular statement, I don't know. I can't speak for them. But I can guess that it has something to do with the fact that my father's death anniversary was coming up and they were looking for an opportunity to expand their influence and expand their mind space in Pakistani society.

HM: This is not the first time you've made some kind of statement in this regard?

ST: It's not the first time and it's certainly not the last time.

HM: What exactly is the threat that has been made against you?

ST: Well, the religious right has started an incitement murder campaign against me where they are calling for my death. They have created a moral panic whereby they have said that Islam is in danger and they are calling for a white knight to come and rescue Islam and by that they specifically mean for someone to come and take my life. The precedent is there. They did exactly the same when my father criticized such laws. And they are calling for another Mumtaz Qadri to do to me what was done to my father. Mumtaz Qadri is the man who took my father's life.

Mumtaz Qadri

Mumtaz Qadri, who was executed in 2016 for killing Salmaan Taseer, is shown here in police custody after his arrest. (Irfan Ali/AP)

HM: It's interesting that you should mention that. One of the hardline clerics in Pakistan making accusations against you said this: "I don't know why the Taseer family do this again and again. His own father was killed for this so why is he also choosing the same path?" Given that you know the price your father paid, why is so important to you to take this stand?

"I will return to Pakistan, of course, because I have a lot of work in Pakistan. I work with victims of religious persecution. Obviously, when I do so, I will be taking some precautions." - Shaan Taseer

ST: Well, what's happening in Pakistan is that the religious right is placing these red lines within society on what can be spoken about and what cannot be spoken about and they are playing judge, jury and executioner. Now, there is absolutely no constitutional basis for telling any citizen in the country whether or not they have the right to speak about the laws that govern them. So for this cleric to be wondering why I expressed an opinion, I would find that amusing. Who gave him the right to tell me what I can speak about or not?

PAKISTAN-BLASPHEMY/

Mumtaz Qadri, the bodyguard who shot and killed Salmaan Taseer in 2011, was later tried and put to death. He's considered a hero by some. Crowds attend Qadri's funeral prayer in Pakistan in March 2016. (Faisal Mahmood/Reuters)

HM: You spoke of Mumtaz Qadri the man who was convicted of killing your father and who is considered a martyr and a hero by some people in Pakistan. How worried are you that the way he is regarded may further promote someone to do some sort of violence against you?

ST: Look, that threat has always been there ... I'd say it's a little more marked now, but I don't think there's anything new about that.

HM: What about plans to return to Pakistan. Will you travel there?

ST: I will return to Pakistan, of course, because I have a lot of work in Pakistan. I work with victims of religious persecution. Obviously, when I do so, I will be taking some precautions ... Those precautions usually involve not advertising your movements.

This transcript has been edited for length and clarity. For more on this story, listen to our full interview with Shaan Taseer.