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Pakistani Journalist: Leader's Slaying Sounds Alarm

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

Family and supporters of a slain Pakistani governor held his funeral today. Salman Taseer was shot by one of his own bodyguards. The governor Punjab province had criticized a blasphemy law. He said it was unfair that it was used to sentence a Christian woman to death. The governor was also a businessman and a newspaper publisher. Rashid Rahman edited his paper, the Daily Times, and he's on the line.

Welcome to the program, sir.

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Mr. RASHID RAHMAN (Editor, The Daily Times): Thank you.

INSKEEP: What was the funeral like today?

Mr. RAHMAN: Well, it was huge. I mean, we had the funeral prayers in the governor's house, and it was enormous. And then, from there, of course, in a small cavalcade of cars, his coffin was brought to a burial ground very near his home in the cantonment area of Lahore. That was a smaller gathering, basically family and close friends, but a very emotional moment, nevertheless.

INSKEEP: Let me dwell on that for a moment, because one of the fears coming out of this assassination, if you have a relatively moderate politician - a secular politician, anyway - who was speaking out against intolerance and who is killed, there was a fear that there would be a chilling effect, that other people would not speak out. Does the size of this funeral say something to you?

Mr. RAHMAN: I do not think that people have been intimidated. If anything, I think there have been - alarms have gone off that, you know, this has gone too far now, and it is time that the liberal and democratic and progressive forces in Pakistani society unite and show the same kind of solidarity and effectiveness organizationally as the right wing extremists and jihadi parties seem to achieve without too much effort. Unless that happens - and that is -will be the majority, incidentally, let me tell you. Despite the fact that, you know, terrorism holds the field as far as news for Pakistan is concerned, they have never been in a majority. They are still a marginal force. It's just that the other side hasn't got its act together.

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INSKEEP: Well, let me ask about the strength of that marginal force. You have an assassin, here - an accused assassin, we should say. But we're told -according to news reports - that he was able to fire more than two dozen times. Nobody stopped him. His fellow guards looked on and did not stop him. And somehow, rather than him being dragged directly into custody, he somehow had time to stop and chat with a TV crew before being taken into custody. What happened there?

Mr. RAHMAN: Well, not exactly that way. What happened was that he had an automatic weapon. And he unloaded his magazine into the governor's body from behind. He was dead on arrival at the hospital.

INSKEEP: OK.

Mr. RAHMAN: It is a suspicious circumstance that the rest of the security detail did not respond. Once he had emptied his magazine, he had time to put down his weapon, put up his hands and surrender and to be taken to a police van where the media got hold of him and where he was able to make some remarks that we heard on our media here. And the thrust of those remarks was: no remorse. He felt he had done the right thing. He'd done his religious duty. He had killed a blasphemer.

INSKEEP: Have there been voices inside Pakistan that have expressed support for the assassin?

Mr. RAHMAN: Yes, there have, as a matter of fact. These messages have been circulating on, you know, SMS and email, and what have you. Whereas they're feeling very triumphant that they think that they've done something marvelous, I think the rest of society is feeling very alarmed and appalled.

INSKEEP: Rashid Rahman, editor of the Daily Times newspaper, was an employee and friend of the governor of Punjab province, Salman Taseer, assassinated this week.

Thank you, sir.

Mr. RAHMAN: Thank you.

INSKEEP: This is NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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