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ICC Note:
Due to death threats and peace talks between the Pakistani Taliban and the government, the killers of Christian cabinet minister, Shahbaz Bhatti, could be released from prison without facing justice. In 2011, Shahbaz Bhatti was gunned down due to his criticism of Pakistan’s controversial blasphemy laws. Calling for reform to the laws, Shahbaz was among the only government official brave enough to speak out publicly about the laws and how they were abused against religious minorities, especially Christians. Will Shahbaz and his family ever receive justice? 
2/17/2014 Pakistan (Morning Star News) – Suspects in the murder of Pakistan’s first Christian cabinet minister, Shahbaz Bhatti, could walk free due to intimidation tactics by Islamic extremists, Christians fear.
The suspects have confessed, according to Dr. Paul Bhatti, brother of former Minister for Minority Affairs Shahbaz Bhatti, who was gunned down on March 2, 2011. But prosecution will be difficult after death threats from Islamic extremists forced Paul Bhatti to flee the country, and banned extremist groups are demanding the release of the suspects for progress in talks with government officials.
Paul Bhatti took responsibility for becoming the complainant in the case when the government’s prosecution slowed to a standstill, but he has left the country due to threats on his life by the Pakistani Taliban and Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ) terrorist organizations.
“I’ve been constantly threatened to withdraw the case, and just recently I received a letter from the Pakistani Taliban and LeJ warning me to stop pursuing the case, or else they will kill me,” Bhatti told Morning Star News by phone from Italy. “I informed the government and other concerned quarters about these threats, but I’m yet to hear something from their side.”
Bhatti has not given up on prosecuting, but Sub-Inspector Riaz Gondal, the investigating officer in the case, admitted that the suspects and their handlers did pose a serious threat to the murder victim’s brother.
“Indeed it is a serious matter – perhaps this is why they hadn’t been pursuing the case,” he said, noting that Bhatti’s absence from hearings and reduced contact with investigators would impair prosecution. “We did our job and arrested the accused. It’s now up to the court to punish them. But if the complainant does not show up at the hearings, there’s little hope for the killers to be convicted.”
Bhatti said that the public prosecutor assigned by the Punjab government had refused to pursue the murder case in the Rawalpindi anti-terrorism court.
“I then hired a lawyer on my own, although it was the responsibility of the Punjab government,” he said.
Asked why the government was not the complainant in the murder case of its cabinet minister instead of the victim’s brother, especially with the case carrying such high risks, Gondal said, “I was assigned the investigation some months ago, so I can’t really say why Shahbaz Bhatti’s brother became the complainant in the case. As for the government’s role in this matter, the police are doing their job, and arrests of the accused are a testimony of their efforts.”
Gondal denied receiving any information regarding the threats to Paul Bhatti.

Prisoner Release

Complicating the case is the possibility that the suspects could be released as part of an agreement for government talks with banned Muslim extremists groups. The Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan has reportedly demanded the release of Bhatti’s alleged assassins along with other imprisoned terrorists as a pre-condition for progress in “peace talks” with the government.
Bhatti said that it was the government’s responsibility to keep the murderers of a sitting cabinet minister from walking free.
“The men themselves confessed to killing my brother,” he said. “I’m certain that they are the real culprits, because the Taliban are demanding their release. It would be very unjust if the government submits to the Taliban demand.
Almost three years have passed since Bhatti’s murder, but the trial has barely begun. Islamabad police believe the latest threatening letters were sent to pressure Bhatti following the arrest of four Islamic extremists accused of killing his brother – Omar Abdullah, Hammad Adil, Abdul Sattar and one identified only as Tanveer, who all belong to the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan. Adil had already been detained for planning attacks on key installations in Islamabad; a vehicle laden with 120 kilograms of explosives was recovered from his residence.

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