Christian Mother Remains on Death Row Two Years after Advocate's Murder
Washington, D.C. (March 4) - International Christian Concern (ICC) has learned that the killers of Shahbaz Bhatti, Pakistan's sole Christian cabinet minister, have yet to be brought to justice two years after his murder. Bhatti was assassinated in Islamabad on March 2, 2011 for opposing Pakistan's ominous blasphemy laws and for condemning the death penalty of a young Christian woman who was sentenced in November 2010 for allegedly insulting the Muslim prophet Muhammad.
Shahbaz Bhatti was gunned down by extremists in Islamabad on March 2, 2011 only weeks after his re-appointment as Pakistan's Minority Affairs minister. Bhatti used the position to secure government assistance for victims of religious-based violence, advocate to repeal the country's blasphemy laws, and focus public attention on the human rights and religious freedoms of minorities. Though the Pakistani Taliban claimed responsibility for Bhatti's murder, the attackers remain at large and the investigation appears to have ended.
"With two years having passed, it is long past time for the Pakistani government to bring Bhatti's killers to justice," said Dr. Katrina Lantos Swett, Chair of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF). "President Zardari should insist that the Ministry of Interior and other Pakistani agencies vigorously investigate the murder and arrest the culprits of this heinous act. How can religious minorities have confidence in their government if it does not fully investigate the murder of a sitting cabinet minister?"
At the time of his assassination, Bhatti was publically advocating for the acquittal of Asia Bibi, a young Christian mother, who was sentenced to death by hanging in November 2010 under Section 295-C of Pakistan's Penal Code for making "derogatory remarks" about Muhammad. Bhatti and Salmaan Taseer, the governor of Punjab province, agreed that Bibi should be pardoned and emphasized that blasphemy laws are often used as a "tool to persecute minorities." Two months before Bhatti's murder, Taseer was also assassinated for opposing the blasphemy law and advocating for Bibi's release. Bibi remains in prison to this day.
Bhatti will long be recognized for defending the rights of religious minorities, advocates say. "[Bhatti's] passion and devotion for the cause of Pakistan's minorities went above the call of duty, and he was a strong voice for the rights of Christians and the misuse of the blasphemy law," said Nasir Saeed, the UK Coordinator of the Centre for Legal Aid, Assistance, and Settlement (CLAAS). "To ordinary Christians facing the threat of death on a daily basis... he was an immense encouragement to live out their faith. Although his life and his work were cut short, the memory of his bravery continues to touch the hearts of Pakistani Christians, who feel forever in his debt."
Aidan Clay, ICC Regional Manager for the Middle East, said, "Blasphemy laws are perhaps the greatest threat to Christianity in Pakistan today. While blasphemy laws claim to seek religious harmony through uniformity, in practice they provide cover for personal vendettas and crush the fundamental freedoms of minorities. By protecting these laws and failing to bring Shahbaz Bhatti's killers to justice, the Pakistani government is further emboldening extremists to commit ever-more violent acts against religious minorities. ICC calls on the Pakistani government to investigate Bhatti's murder and arrest those responsible. Moreover, we call for the release and safekeeping of Asia Bibi. Immediate action must be taken so that Bibi does not become another victim of abused blasphemy legislation. No one should fear being killed by their government simply because they are a member of a minority religious community."
For interviews, contact Aidan Clay, Regional Manager for the Middle East: email@example.com
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