Lahore, Aug 26: The son of former Pakistani governor Salman Taseer, who was killed in January for opposing controversial Islamic blasphemy laws, was abducted by gunmen in Lahore on Friday, police said.
Shahbaz Taseer, who had been given police protection, was abducted from a wealthy neighbourhood of Lahore, the capital of the eastern province of Punjab and considered one of Pakistan's more liberal cities, while on his way to work.
"Four men in a car intercepted Shahbaz Taseer's car in Lahore's upmarket Gulberg area," police emergency official Syed Mumtaz told AFP.
"They overpowered him at gunpoint and forcibly put him in their car and sped away," he said. Two other police officials confirmed the information.
The official said police were searching for the car but there was no indication of who may have been behind the abduction.
Provincial law minister Rana Sanaullah said the Punjab government had provided Taseer with a police escort after his father was killed "but he did not ask them to accompany today".
"It was his routine. Sometimes he would go with guards, sometimes not," he told Geo television.
"The gunmen were young, wearing jeans, they came on a motorbike and in a vehicle."
He said it was too early to say who the abductors were. "It is a sensitive issue and any statement at this stage would be premature. We will come to know when the investigations proceed," he said.
Salman Taseer was killed by a bodyguard outside an Islamabad coffee shop for criticising the blasphemy law, which provides for the death penalty. It was the highest-profile political killing in Pakistan in more than three years.
Police officials said Taseer's family had been repeatedly threatened to withdraw the murder case against the police bodyguard accused of his killing.
Senior police investigation officer Razzaq Cheema said that Shahbaz, 27, was on his way to his office from his home when "some people on motorbikes and a land cruiser intercepted him near an intersection and abducted him."
"Later they threw out their rifle which is now with the police. We have called Shahbaz's guard for interrogation," Cheema told Geo television.
US-based Human Rights Watch confirmed the abduction. Its Pakistan director Ali Dayan said the federal and provincial governments "must ensure that the younger Taseer is recovered speedily and his abductors are held accountable".
"This family has suffered too much already and given the security threats directed towards them in the aftermath of governor Taseer's death, this kidnapping underscores the failing writ of the state and its inability to provide security even to those known to be at high risk," he said.
Taseer's murder was followed two months later by the assassination of another vocal opponent of the law, minorities minister Shahbaz Bhatti, the only Christian in Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani's cabinet.
Gilani's government backtracked on amending the blasphemy law in December after a number of popular protests despite criticism from rights groups who say it is often abused to settle personal scores.
But Islamabad, weakened by rampant corruption, an economic crisis and a wave of suicide bombings, allowed imams and fundamentalist leaders to court public opinion with calls for the slaying of supporters of amending the law.
Salman Taseer had set up consultancy firms and a brokerage house, and invested lucratively in telecommunications, a newspaper, insurance and real estate.
Shahbaz is one of the directors of the Media Times private limited, which publishes two newspapers and runs a television channel. AFP