Thousands of extremists in Muslim-majority Pakistan took to the streets in defiance of a ban on protests to rally in support of a man executed for killing a governor, who called to change the country’s strict blasphemy laws that primarily target Christians and other minority groups.
On Wednesday, between 3,000 and 4,000 people protesters in the outskirts of the Pakistani capital chanted slogans praising the murderer and declaring Pakistan an Islamic state, notes Reuters, adding:
Mumtaz Qadri was executed on Feb. 29 last year for killing Salman Taseer, the governor of Punjab, Pakistan’s most populous province.
Qadri had been assigned as one of Taseer’s bodyguards after the governor enraged the religious right by calling for reform to the country’s blasphemy laws in support of a Christian woman who had been sentenced to death.
After his arrest, Qadri became a hero to many in hardline factions for his action, seen as defending Islam.
Pakistan’s blasphemy laws have primarily targeted the Christian community and members of other minority groups across the country, where more than 100 people are detained on blasphemy charges every year.
Law enforcement officials have arrested Christian children as young as eight years old on allegations of insulting Islam or the Prophet Mohammed, a crime that is punishable by death in Pakistan.
“In Pakistan, law courts are known for their manipulation of laws which are used as a tool discriminate minorities,” reported Pakistan Christian Post in October 2016.
Although the Pakistani government has not carried out a blasphemy-related death sentence, numerous Islamic extremists have taken their version of justice into their hands.
Protests have regularly broken out across Pakistan with demonstrators calling for the execution of Christians accused of violating the country’s blasphemy laws.
Reuters learned from an unnamed police officer that Wednesday’s demonstrations were peaceful, but that is not always the case.
Muslim hard-liners last year coordinated protests across Pakistan, chanting slogans and displaying signs calling for the hanging of Bibi.
Pakistan Christian Post pointed out last year:
Asia Bibi a mother of five who has been unjustly incarcerated for seven years had to suffer the ignominy of having her trial being postponed indefinitely… Protests have been held across the country in which extremist groups are inciting the already conservative Muslim communities in Pakistan to call for the blood of Asia Bibi.
Bibi is the reason Pakistani Gov. Taseer called for changing Pakistan’s blasphemy laws, a move that cost him his life.
Also last year, at least one mob of more than 80 Muslim extremists urged the Pakistani government to execute Nabeel Mashih while the judicial system determined his fate.
The 16-year-old’s crime was “liking” and “sharing” a Facebook post that allegedly “defamed and disrespected” the Kaaba in Mecca, a building at the center of Islam’s most sacred mosque, notes World Watch Monitor, an organization that focuses on Christian persecution across the globe.
“Nabeel’s crime was to post a Facebook [FB] image that is said to be derogatory to Muslims,” notes Pakistan Christian Post, adding, that “a judge announced the young teenager could face the death sentence.”