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Pakistan: Shahbaz Bhatti murder case: Prime suspect granted bail 

Shahbaz Bhatti, formerly Pakistan’s sole Christian cabinet member and an outspoken defender of marginalized Christians in the vastly Muslim-majority nation, was gunned down by assassins in 2011. One of the prime suspects of the murder, who had previously confessed to the assassination and has long been accused of involvement with al-Qaeda, was recently released on bail. Bhatti was murdered the same year as former Governor of Punjab Salmaan Taseer, who likewise spoke out against the abuse of Pakistan’s blasphemy laws to target Christians.

By Dan Wooding

7/12/2014 Pakistan (ANS) – An Anti-Terror Court (ATC) in Pakistan has granted bail to Abdullah Umar, a prime suspect in Shahbaz Bhatti murder case. Mt. Bhatti, the only Christian in Pakistan’s cabinet, was the former Federal Minister for Minority Rights.

“Abdullah Umar, it may be recalled, had reportedly confessed his involvement in many terror attacks, and had admitted killing Shahbaz Bhatti with the help of Hamad Adil and Tanvir,” said a story in Pakistan Today (www.pakistantoday.com.pk).

The accused had filed a bail application, which was accepted by the ATC with orders to submit surety bonds of one million Pakistani rupees ($10,136.860 US Dollars).

Pakistan’s Dunya TV (dunyanews.tv), reported “Abdullah had confessed to the murder of Shahbaz Bhatti before Islamabad police. He was injured when he was arrested by the police and the intelligence agencies from a private hospital.”

Shahbaz Bhatti, an activist for minority rights and an outspoken critic of the controversial blasphemy laws in Pakistan, was killed by assassins on March 2, 2011, who later identified as members of Al-Qaeda.

He had been the recipient of death threats since 2009, when he spoke in support of Pakistani Christians attacked in the 2009 Gojra riots in Punjab Province, which resulted in the deaths of eight Christians including four women and a child. These threats increased following his support for Asia Bibi, a Pakistani Christian sentenced to death in 2010 for blasphemy, and who is still on death row after several appeal attempts were canceled.

“Threats included pamphlet directing him to stay away from the case or else he would have to suffer adverse consequences,” said the Dunya TV story.

Realizing how dangerous his human rights campaigning was becoming, Bhatti still bravely continued and vowed in a speech four months prior to his death, that he would not stop speaking out for marginalized Christians and other minorities. He said, “I believe in Jesus Christ who has given his own life for us, and I am ready to die for a cause. I’m living for my community … and I will die to defend their rights.”

According to the BBC, Bhatti was travelling to work through a residential district in Islamabad, having just left his mother’s home, when his vehicle was sprayed with some 25 bullets. At the time of the attack he was alone, without any security. His driver reports having stopped the car and ducked when he saw armed men approaching rather than attempting to evade the threat. Bhatti was taken to a nearby hospital, but he was pronounced dead on arrival.

Suspects were soon taken into custody and interrogated while the accused Abdullah Umar “admitted to the murder and so was being trialed in court,” said the TV station.

On the day following Bhatti’s assassination, hundreds of Christian demonstrators took to the streets across Punjab, with protesters burning tires and demanding justice. According to Minorities Concern of Pakistan, “Investigators are divided over the assassination case with some in the Islamabad police pointing the fingers at the Taliban and al-Qaeda.”

After Bhatti was gunned down, his brother Paul Bhatti took up the responsibility, but soon had to leave the country in wake of the threats he too was receiving.

Pakistan has previously experienced a similar murder incident in the same year on January 4, when former Governor Punjab Salmaan Taseer was shot dead by his own guard outside a café in Islamabad. Taseer, had also stepped forward in support of Asia Bibi maintaining a stance that the blasphemy Law in Pakistan was being misused. Bhatti later joined Taseer’s camp.

Ali Dayan Hasan of Human Rights Watch said that Bhatti’s death represented “the bitter fruit of appeasement of extremist and militant groups both prior to and after the killing of Salmaan Taseer.”

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