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Some 300 people attend funeral of Christian “blasphemer” who died in prison, prayers for Bhatti

The deceased’s family bans cameras and journalists from the church because of threats from Muslim fundamentalists. As Christians remember the latest victim of the ‘black law’, services are held across the country for the late Minority Affairs minister. Christian leaders complain about the contradictions and cover-up in the murder investigation.

By Jibran Khan
03/18/2011 Pakistan (AsiaNews)-The funeral of Qamar David, the Christian sentenced to life for blasphemy that died on Tuesday night, was held yesterday in Lahore with some 300 people attending. Cameras and journalists were banned from the church out of fear of attacks by fundamentalist groups who have threatened the family in the past. During the homily, the vicar general of the city slammed “the latest Christian victim of blasphemy”. Meanwhile, Pakistani Christians remembered with prayers and Masses Minority Affairs Minister Shahbaz Bhatti, a Catholic, who was assassinated by an extremist group on 2 March. Investigations into his death are for their part mired in contradictions and cover-ups. This is making it more likely that the murder will go unpunished.

The funeral of Qamar David, killed by heart attack according to the authorities but poisoned according to the family, was held at Saint Joseph Catholic Church in Lahore. Mgr Sebastian Shaw, auxiliary bishop, and Fr Emmanuel Mani, director of the National Commission for Justice and Peace of the Catholic Church celebrated the memorial service before a congregation of more than 300 people, including priests, relatives and human rights activists. At the end of the service, David was laid to rest in one of the city’s cemetery.

Fr Andrew Nisari, vicar general of Lahore, highlighted “The shock and sadness of the Christian community, mourning once again a victim of blasphemy”. For him, Pakistani Christians now “have another martyr”, so soon after the wound inflicted by the assassination of Shahbaz Bhatti. The authorities, he said, should “guarantee protection to religious minorities”.

Qamar David’s lawyer reiterated that the charges that led to the conviction of the 55-year-old were “specious”, due to “business rivalries” and his conviction “was the result of pressures from religious leaders and their supporters”.

However, the investigation into his death continues to be marred in contradictions and omissions. Police had initially tried to pin the murder on personal enemies, but Catholic leaders immediately rejected the claim, calling it a diversion. More recently, police announced that it had arrested someone in connection with the murder, but few details have emerged so far. Nevertheless, police stated that they would soon have startling news.

Despite such claims, the whole process is full of contradictions. At a press conference yesterday where the arrest of a man involved in the murder was announced, Inspector General Wajid Durrani stated, on the issue of Bhatti’s security, that the minister’s home “in the I-8/3 [sector] was not a secret because he often took his security detail with him there.” Yet, on 3 March, the day after the assassination, the chief investigator had said, “no one among the security officials knew about his residence”.

For many concerned Christians, such contradictions, omissions and cover-ups are just a way to protect the real culprits. Mgr Rufin Anthony, bishop of Islamabad-Rawalpindi, shares their fears. Announcing a memorial service for Bhatti this Sunday, the prelate noted “that the murder investigation has raised serious concerns” as police and the Interior Ministry try to pass the buck to avoid taking responsibility for the minister’s death and the failure to arrest the culprits.

“The statements issued at the time of the murder contradict the statements that have been given now. This raises more concerns about the Bhatti’s case, suggesting that it might end up unsolved, like other high profile murders,” the bishop said. More importantly, “We are concerned about the safety of the minorities in Pakistan.”

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