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Thirty ideas from people under 30: The Change Agents

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Shehrbano Taseer, human rights activist in Pakistan.
Michael Ian/Human Rights First
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Shehrbano Taseer: Pakistan's voice for justice

Shehrbano Taseer is on a quest to change Pakistan's unyielding blasphemy laws – and in the process perhaps honor her late father.

It's been a year since Salmaan Taseer, the governor of Punjab Province and a major Pakistani political figure, was assassinated in a brazen attack by one of his own security guards in an open-air market in Islamabad. The attacker later admitted he shot Mr. Taseer because of the governor's opposition to Pakistan's blasphemy laws.

Now his daughter, a journalist and human rights activist, is campaigning to raise awareness about the laws that can impose penalties from fines to death on people who defame Muhammad, the Quran, or other elements of Islam. She also advocates for women and religious minorities.

"When a man like that dies, people get really scared," says Ms. Taseer, 22. "You start to wonder what went to the grave with him – if you can speak out, if you can live a certain way, if you can even think in a certain way."

The problem, she says, is not necessarily the laws themselves (which she believes should be reformed) but that the conviction rates for violating them are "skyrocketing." "Almost on a weekly basis, people are being tossed into jail for committing blasphemy, and it's almost always for personal vendettas or land issues," says Taseer.

A graduate of Smith College in Massachusetts, Taseer, who works for Newsweek Pakistan, has received numerous death threats herself in the past year. She raises money to help educate the children of parents ensnared in Pakistan's legal system.

"The only way this enemy [intolerance] can be defeated is through education and economic opportunities," she says.

David Grant, Washington

Next: Becca Heller: The refugees' advocate

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