Pakistan: Women's Rights Activist Minister Killed by Known Extremist

21/02/2007: (Herald Sun)

A Pakistani minister and women's activist has been shot dead by an Islamic extremist for refusing to wear the full veil.

Zilla Huma Usman, the Minister for Social Welfare in Punjab province and an ally of President Pervez Musharraf, was shot in the head as she was about to deliver a political speech.

Ms Usman's killer was described as a fanatic, who believed she was dressed inappropriately and women should not be involved in politics, the Times reported yesterday.

She was wearing the shalwar kameez worn by many professional women in Pakistan, but did not fully cover her head.

The attack happened in Gujranwala, about 190km southeast of Islamabad, where the minister's office was located. As Ms Usman, 35, stepped out of her car, where she was greeted by her co-workers throwing rose petals, the attacker pulled out a pistol and fired a single shot at close range, hitting her in the head. She was flown to hospital in the provincial capital of Lahore but died soon after.

The gunman, Mohammad Sarwar, was overpowered by the minister's driver and arrested. A stonemason in his mid-40s, he is not thought to belong to any radical group but is known for his fanaticism, the [Australian] Times reported. Sarwar was previously held in 2002 in connection with the killing and mutilation of four prostitutes, but was never convicted due to lack of evidence.

He appeared relaxed and calm when he told a television channel he had carried out God's order to kill women who sinned. "I have no regrets. I just obeyed Allah's commandment," Sarwar said, adding that Islam did not allow women to hold positions of leadership. "I will kill all those women who do not follow the right path, if I am freed again."

Raja Basharat, Punjab Law Minister, said: "He is basically a fanatic. He is against involvement of women in politics and government affairs."

A police statement added: "He considers it contrary to the teachings of Allah for a woman to become a minister or a ruler. That's why he committed this action."

Officer Nazir Ahmad said: "He killed her because she was not observing the Islamic code of dress. She was also campaigning for emancipation of women."

Ms Usman, a married mother of two sons, joined the pro-Musharraf Pakistan Muslim League after being elected in 2002. She was a strong supporter of the President's policy of enlightened moderation, designed to tackle extremism.


To leave the list, send your request by email to: wunrn_listserve-request@lists.wunrn.com. Thank you.