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IFJ calls on media to isolate extremists after Salmaan Taseer killing

Banned grief: A girl holds a placard as she stands next to an image of the governor of Punjab Salman Taseer during a candlelight vigil in commemoration of Taseer, at the site where he was assassinated a day earlier, in Islamabad January 5, 2011. Five hundred Pakistani religious scholars have warned that anyone who expresses grief over the assassination of the senior ruling party official who opposed the blasphemy law could suffer the same fate.

The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) has warned that the assassination of Salmaan Taseer, governor of the Punjab province in Pakistan, may open the door to a new wave of political intolerance and pressure on journalists across the country.

"Salman Taseer was a friend of democracy and media freedom," said Aidan White, General Secretary of the IFJ. "His death is a brutal reminder that speaking out against extremism carries great risks for human rights defenders like journalists and others."

Taseer was a person with a strong presence in the media and was owner and publisher of the Daily Times published from Lahore. He hosted White and leaders of the Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists at a banquet in the governor's mansion in Lahore during a journalists' convention in August 2008.

"Taseer was uncompromising in his support for good journalism and gave his backing to efforts by Pakistani journalists to maintain their independence," said White. "He appears to have paid a terrible price for his outspoken stand on Pakistan's draconian blasphemy laws."

He had angered religious groups and Islamic clerics when he openly spoke out for the repeal or amendment of the blasphemy law after a court in Punjab handed a death sentenced to Asia Bibi, a 45-year-old Christian woman, for insulting Prophet Mohammed.

Some human rights advocates claim media misrepresented his position on the blasphemy laws which may have provoked a violent backlash.

One newspaper the Express Tribune commented: "... the blood of Salmaan Taseer is on all our hands. We, each one of us, are to blame for his assassination....when he was being targeted by the extremists and the religious elements in our society, when some people came on television and hinted that Mr Taseer was fit to be killed we did nothing to stand up and support him."

IFJ said that unless media and journalists isolate extremists and challenge incitement to violence the killing will lead to fresh attacks and the targeting of journalists who defend the right to free expression.

"In the fraught political climate of Pakistan journalists need to be especially aware of the consequences of their reporting," said White. "Politicians like Taseer are targeted precisely because they call for pluralism and respect for all points of view. Journalists must act professionally to confront those who promote violence."

Date posted: January 5, 2011 Last modified: May 23, 2018 Total views: 163