ISLAMABAD -- Human rights advocate and UK city councillor Raza Anjum today condemned the assassination of the governor of Pakistan's Punjab province, Salman Taseer, and described him as "a brave person who fought for justice, equality and a progressive Pakistan."
Mr. Taseer, a senior member of the ruling Pakistan People's Party (PPP), was shot in a popular shopping district of Islamabad by one of his own security guards who told authorities that he was angered by the governor's support of a Christian woman sentenced to death for blasphemy. Mr. Taseer had recently spoken out against the country's blasphemy law, prompting protests by Islamic extremists.
In a statement released today, Anjum said he met with Taseer less than a week ago.
"The governor told me that he had met with Asia Bibi, a Pakistani Christian convicted of blasphemy, despite strong opposition from religious clerics. The governor stated that he was undeterred by the fact that a fatwa had been issued against him for his activities and highlighted that the founder of Pakistan, Mohammed Ali Jinnah, was also given a fatwa," Anjum said.
According to Anjum, the governor also said that "one needs to be determined and brave in standing up for human rights" adding that "the religious extremists were not in a majority." Governor Taseer also told Anjum that "the extremists aim to install fear in the minds of the people." Taseer said he was "prepared to stand up to them to help bring about a progressive and peaceful Pakistan."
During the meeting, the governor stated that visiting Asia Bibi in jail, many members of civil society felt emboldened to publicly campaign for the rights of minorities. Taseer told Anjum that "white in the Pakistani flag represents minorities who are a key element in the state of Pakistan."
Commenting, Councillor Anjum stated that "the assassination of Salman Taseer is a huge blow to all those who are working for an enlightened and progressive Pakistan. He was a champion of human rights issues and a vocal critic of religious extremism."
"The assassination of Salman Taseer once again highlights Pakistan's unending troubles. He was a high-profile leader of the PPP, and was governor of the country's largest province, Punjab. His death has left the country in shock at a time when it faces an imminent political crisis," Anjum added.
On Taseer's Twitter page, an associate posted: "R.I.P. Lion of the Punjab Salmaan Taseer (31 May 1944-04 Jan 2011)" According to Mr. Anjum, the Pakistan People's Party said it would observe two weeks of mourning over Taseer's death. Prime Minister Syed Yusuf Raza Gilani "strongly condemned" the incident, according to CNN.
Photo of Raza Anjum and the late governor of Pakistan's Punjab province, Salman Taseer.