Paul Bhatti, Pakistan’s only Christian cabinet minister, warns of growing hostility toward religious minorities and condemned Pakistan’s oppressive blasphemy law. The arrest of an 11 year old girl who allegedly burned Islamic texts resurfaced international attention on Pakistan’s failure to safeguard minority rights.
By Guillaume Lavallee
8/30/2012 Pakistan (AFP) – Blasphemy allegations against Christians in Pakistan are not just a religious issue, according to the country's top Christian politician -- they also show that the old feudal caste system has not gone away.
The position of the Christian minority in the overwhelmingly Muslim nation has come under the spotlight in the past fortnight with the arrest of Rimsha, a young Christian girl accused of blasphemy for allegedly burning papers containing Koranic verses.
Anti-terrorist police with automatic rifles guard the large Islamabad home of Paul Bhatti, the Minister for National Harmony whose brother and predecessor Shahbaz was gunned down last year for speaking out against Pakistan's strict blasphemy laws.
Bhatti, the only Christian cabinet minister in Pakistan, where the population is 97 percent Muslim, felt a rush of fear two weeks ago when Rimsha was arrested in a poor Islamabad suburb.
When furious Muslims threatened Christians in the area the next day after Friday prayers, Bhatti contacted imams to try to calm things down, saying if they had encouraged the worshippers, "it would have been possible to have another Gojra".
Seven people died in the Punjab town of Gojra in 2009 when a Muslim mob burned Christian houses after a rumour that a Koran had been desecrated during a wedding service.
From Gojra to the 2011 murders of Shahbaz Bhatti and Punjab governor Salman Taseer, who also backed reform of the blasphemy law, and the death sentence handed to Christian woman Asia Bibi in 2010, blasphemy cases have multiplied in recent years.
"What is happening is the misuse of this law," said Bhatti.
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