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Pakistan: Cabinet minister who defended Christians is assassinated

Catholic World News - March 02, 2011

Shahbaz Bhatti, a lay Catholic who served as Pakistan’s federal minister for religious minorities, was assassinated on March 2 while traveling to work. He was 42.

The gunman who ambushed Bhatti's car and shot down the government leader left a note saying that Bhatti was killed "for speaking out against the blasphemy law." The assassin claimed credit for the killing in the name of Tehrik-e-Taliban, a coalition of Islamic extremist groups.

The cabinet minister had received multiple death threats when he questioned the death sentence for blasphemy handed down in the case of Asia Bibi, a Christian housewife whose friends insist that she was convicted on false charges.

“We are in a state of shock and panic: the Catholic community, all Christians, are traumatized by this latest murder,” said Peter Jacob, a layman who serves as secretary of bishops’ commission for justice and peace. “We feel bewildered and defenseless. This murder means that the country is at the mercy of terrorists, who can afford to kill high-ranking personalities.” Bishop Rufin Anthony of Islamabad observed: "“This should be an eye opener for minorities and the government. How much more blood will it take to realise that enough is enough?"

In Rome the director of the Vatican press office, Father Federico Lombardi, released a statement condemning “another terrible episode of violence.” He remarked: “It shows how right the Pope is in his persistent remarks concerning violence against Christians and against religious freedom in general.” The papal spokesman said that prayers for the victim should be accompanied by “an appeal that everyone many become aware of the urgent importance of defending both religious freedom and Christians who are subject to violence and persecution.”

Three weeks before his assassination, Bhatti had predicted that his reappointment as cabinet minister would “create some protests and resentment by many Islamic extremists. But my struggle will continue, despite the difficulties and threats that I have received. My only aim is to defend fundamental rights, religious freedom and the life of Christians and other religious minorities. I am prepared for any sacrifice for this mission, which I carry out with the spirit of a servant of God.”

Bhatti is the second prominent Pakistani leader who has been killed after urging changes in the country's blasphemy law. Salman Taseer, the governor of the Punjad province, was murdered in January. Sherry Rehman, a member of parliament who suggested amending the law, withdrew her proposal after receiving death threats.

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Show 5 Comments? (Hidden)Hide Comments
  • Posted by: impossible - Mar. 03, 2011 10:06 PM ET USA

    Our feckless federal government, past and present administrtions, treat religious persecution by certain countries the same way they treat the public education failure in the U.S. They just keep throwing more and more money at it. We never learn. P.S. I share Justin's question.

  • Posted by: hartwood01 - Mar. 02, 2011 8:49 PM ET USA

    Options for Christians in Pakistan are: embrace martyrdom or give up their faith and join the heretics.

  • Posted by: Justin8110 - Mar. 02, 2011 7:20 PM ET USA

    rpp is asking a good question: just what is meant by "moderate Muslim?" If one reads history and current events it is hard to believe that any such animal exists or has ever existed.

  • Posted by: rpp - Mar. 02, 2011 5:58 PM ET USA

    I agree with Samuel, how very sad and heroic at the same time. However, it is events like these make one wonder what the actual definition of "radical Muslim", in contrast with "mainstream Muslim", really is.

  • Posted by: samuel.doucette1787 - Mar. 02, 2011 10:17 AM ET USA

    I think a strong case can be made that he is a martyr.

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