In late 2015, the Supreme Court confirmed his death sentence. Pakistanis held their breath. Would then President Mamnoon Hussain pardon the killer? And would Taseer’s assassination thus become the precedent for legalised murder on blasphemy pretexts? When the murderer was indeed executed on 29 February 2016, the public was taken by surprise. For over a week millions of enraged blasphemy fanatics rallied in public, paralysing the capital and other urban hubs.

Draconian punishments for "blasphemers" and "apostates"

The death penalty is incompatible with fundamental human rights and has been abolished throughout most of Europe, except Russia (suspended) and Belarus (in force). In the 50 states of the USA it has been suspended in 13 and abolished in 21 states. In other parts of the world capital punishment remains the law of the land, including Pakistan.

In this context the President’s refusal to pardon Taseer’s assassin amounts to an unmistakable rejection of a "blasphemy shaheed" taking the law into his own hands. This is a robust rebuttal of what is effectively becoming customary law in many parts of the Muslim world.

The battle cry "Blasphemy!" continues to serve as a perfidious, but highly effective weapon for people who want to settle property disputes, family vendettas and any other personal scores. Pakistan holds the record for both vigilante killings and (often life-long) imprisonments of perceived "blasphemers". Decades of persecuting anyone, anywhere, anytime on spurious blasphemy accusations – frequently with the blessing of the authorities – have profoundly affected cultural mores and social attitudes.

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