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Pakistan churches remember Bhatti

08 March 2012

by Ed Thornton

Remembered: mourners walk past the grave of Shahbaz Bhatti PA

Remembered: mourners walk past the grave of Shahbaz Bhatti PA

CHURCHES in Pakistan held services last weekend to mark the first anniversary of the murder of Shahbaz Bhatti, a leading campaigner against the blasphemy laws in Pakistan (News, 4 March 2011).

Mr Bhatti, a Roman Catholic, was the Minister for Religious Minorities and leader of the Pakistan People’s Party. He was shot dead after gunmen opened fire on his car as he made his way to work.

A statement issued by Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) on the anniversary of his death said that his killers “are yet to be caught, and announcements from the investigative team have thus far been overshadowed by inconsistency and speculation”. The All Pakistan Minorities Alliance, which Mr Bhatti co-founded in 2002, said that “a mockery had been made of the investigation.” It is calling for a judicial inquiry.

The chief executive of CSW, Mervyn Thomas, said that Mr Bhatti had been “utterly committed to making justice and equality a reality in the lives of Pakistan’s minorities.

“It is crucial that his murder investigation reaches a satisfactory conclusion, not only to do justice and honour the memory of Shahbaz himself, but also to make it clear that the rule of law still means something in Pakistan. At stake is the ability and willingness of the Pakistani state to stand up against those taking justice into their own hands, including those who target religious minorities with confidence that they will never be held to account.”

On Tuesday of last week, the British Pakistani Christian Association published an account of a Pakistani Christian, Jude Julius, who said that he was beaten “almost to death” by a group of Muslims who accused him of burning the Qur’an. Mr Julius said that many Christians in Pakistan had been murdered in “broad daylight”, after being accused of blasphemy.

Aasia Bibi, a Christian woman who was sentenced to death under the country’s blasphemy laws (News, 19 November 2010), is still waiting for a ruling on her appeal. Last month, Mrs Bibi published a book, Get Me Out of Here, which was written from prison with the help of Anne-Isabelle Tollet, a French journalist.

Last Friday, the UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief, Heiner Bielefeldt, said that the targeted killings last month of Shia Muslims, another religious minority in Pakistan, “once more display the appalling degree of religious hatred in a country where there seems to be a failure to protect the security of religious minorities”.

In recent weeks, MPs and peers in the UK have been raising the plight of religious minorities in Pakistan. Last Friday, Andrew Stephenson MP tabled an Early Day Motion calling for freedom of religion to be upheld in Pakistan.

Speaking in the House of Lords on 30 January, the Bishop of Norwich, the Rt Revd Graham James, asked the Foreign Office Minister, Lord Howell of Guildford, whether he detected “any signs of hope that Christians and other minorities will be able to play their fullest and most active part in the democratic process” in Pakistan.

Lord Howell responded that the Government would do its “best to support the development of a more peaceful, balanced and democratic Pakistan”. He admitted, however, that “it would be misleading if I stood at the dispatch box and sounded optimistic notes about the future, which is still very precarious for all these faiths.”

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