The governor of Pakistan’s wealthiest and most populated province was shot dead Tuesday by one of his bodyguards who told interrogators he was angry over the politician’s opposition to laws that impose the death penalty for those convicted of insulting Islam.
Punjab Governor Salman Taseer, 56, was a member of the ruling party and a close associate of President Asif Ali Zardari. Friends described him as an outspoken moderate who defended women’s rights, minorities and secularism and he was the most high-profile politician assassinated since former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto was killed in December 2007.
He was shot 26 times, said Shaukat Kayani, a doctor at Poly Clinic Hospital. The interior minister said it was not clear whether the guard acted alone or was part of a larger plot.
Taseer’s death in the capital Islamabad rattled a country already mired in crises ranging from a potential collapse of the government to a virulent Islamist insurgency. It was a blow to Pakistan’s embattled secular movement and could add to concerns about inroads by Islamist extremists into the country’s security forces.
Taseer vented his opposition publicly _ even using Twitter _ to hard-line blasphemy laws that effectively order death for anyone convicted of insulting Islam. The laws have come under greater scrutiny in recent weeks after a Christian woman, Asia Bibi, was sentenced to death for allegedly insulting Islam’s Prophet Muhammad.