After Asia Bibi’s acquittal, Pakistani media should be convicted for Salmaan Taseer’s murder

The media has played an ugly role in fueling the fire against the weak and marginalised.

WrittenBy:Kunwar Khuldune Shahid
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On Wednesday, the Pakistan Supreme Court overturned Asia Bibi’s death penalty. The Supreme Court bench said Bibi, a Christian woman who had been sentenced to death for blasphemy, had been falsely accused by a fellow Muslim woman over a personal quarrel nine years ago.

The verdict has been rightly dubbed historic. Given that Pakistan’s blasphemy law has been central to the Islamist inertia against tolerance and progress, any verdict that challenges the radical forces in the country is as significant as it’s rare. The threats to the lives of those trying to defend Bibi over the years, and the three judges that have now acquitted her, underline just how momentous the verdict is.

The freedom that Asia Bibi has won back after it was brutally taken away from her is a tribute to Salmaan Taseer, the former Punjab governor who eventually sacrificed his life to safeguard a woman he staunchly believed was innocent.

Today, Taseer has posthumously won the battle that he so courageously took on while his murderer Mumtaz Qadri—already declared a terrorist by the state of Pakistan—has now been further relegated in the reams of history as an indoctrinated murderer and will forever be the case against Section 295-C of the Pakistan Penal Code, the Islam-specific blasphemy law.

Even so, with Asia Bibi’s justice, Taseer’s vindication and Qadri’s ideological burial, it is important to call out those who were on the wrong side of history throughout this past decade. Among these would, of course, be the radical Islamist groups that indoctrinate murderers like Qadri, offshoots of whom are currently threatening to choke the entire country. There are politicians, many of whom belonged to Taseer’s own party (the Pakistan Peoples Party), whose silence before the former governor’s killing facilitated the murder, and silence after it helped create the atmosphere that took lives of many over similar false allegations—last year’s brutal murder of Mashal Khan being one notable example.

However, perhaps the ugliest role over the past decade—as has quite often been the case in Pakistan in recent years—was played by the local media.

Pakistani media has been facing a double-edged sword, often wielded by rival media houses against one another. What this means is that while the military establishment-sanctioned censorship silences many voices, those that remain are often the ones that bellow to uphold the vicious status quo.

It is amidst such noise that Taseer was silenced. Just as he became vocal about his support for Asia Bibi and his criticism of the blasphemy law—which he felt is misused and hence should be reformed—media trials began to ensure that the then Punjab governor was depicted as a blasphemer himself and, in turn, wajib-ul-qatl (liable to be murdered).

One TV anchor announced a fatwa (edict) against Taseer on national television that established him as a blasphemer. Another joked about the threat to Taseer’s life in what turned out to be Taseer’s last interview before being murdered. Even the day Taseer was killed, entire shows were dedicated to opinions underlining how he actually deserved to be murdered.

Meanwhile, Taseer’s murderer Qadri has been celebrated across the media and continues to be so even two-and-a-half years after the state judicially executed him as a terrorist. In addition to many clerics being invited on air to support Taseer’s murder, many channels aired Qadri’s own statement describing his sense of accomplishment and justification for the actions.

The official YouTube channel of a prominent media house still has a video of Salmaan Taseer supporting Asia Bibi captioned as “Why Mumtaz Qadri killed Salmaan Taseer”. Not to mention the airtime provided to scores of politicians that continue to support Qadri.

Asia Bibi and Salmaan Taseer’s cases aren’t the only ones where the media has perpetuated murderous bile. There is a growing surge in televangelists issuing murder edicts at the drop of a hat with complete immunity with religious minorities being the most frequent target, most commonly the Ahmadiyya Muslim community, which isn’t ever provided any representation to address the blatant misconceptions spread against them.

While there is hope that Asia Bibi’s release will give the state impetus to address radical Islamism, it is important that the media be put under trial for its role in fueling the fire against the weak and marginalised. After Asia Bibi’s acquittal, it is the Pakistani media that should be convicted for Salmaan Taseer’s murder.


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