The governor of Pakistan’s Punjab province has been shot dead by one of his guards apparently for criticising the country’s controversial blasphemy laws.
The killing of Salman Taseer was the most high-profile assassination of a political figure in Pakistan since former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, was shot in December 2007, and it rattled a country already dealing with crises ranging from a potential collapse of the government to Islamist militancy.
The suspected killer was taken into custody and there were conflicting reports as to whether he was wounded.
Mr Taseer was a member of Ms Bhutto’s Pakistan People’s Party and a close associate of President Asif Ali Zardari, her widower. The governor was vocal on a range of subjects, and frequently used Twitter to get across his views.
In recent days, as the People’s Party has faced the loss of its coalition partners, Mr Taseer insisted that the government will survive. But it was his stance against the blasphemy laws that apparently led to his killing.
Interior Minister Rahman Malik said the suspect had surrendered to police and told them he killed Mr Taseer because “the governor described the blasphemy laws as a black law”.
“He was the most courageous voice after Benazir Bhutto on the rights of women and religious minorities,” said Farahnaz Ispahani, an aide to Mr Zardari and friend of Mr Taseer. “God, we will miss him.”
Pakistan’s blasphemy law has come under greater scrutiny in recent days after a Christian woman was sentenced to death for allegedly insulting Islam’s Prophet Mohammed.
Under pressure from Islamist parties, the People’s Party said recently it would not pursue changes to the law, which has long worried human rights activists.
Mr Taseer was shot after he reached Khosar Market, a shopping centre in Islamabad popular with Westerners and wealthy Pakistanis. Five other people were wounded as other security personnel responded to the attack.