09/10/2009, 00.00
PAKISTAN

Islamic extremists threaten life of Catholic minister leading the fight against blasphemy law

by Fareed Khan
Minorities Minister Shahbaz Bhatti confirms he was the subject of intimidations. He says however that he is ready “for any kind of sacrifice for his people”. All he wants is justice for the victims of Gojra and compensation for survivors. The National Commission for Justice and Peace continues its action to repeal the country’s blasphemy laws.
Islamabad (AsiaNews) – “I have been receiving death threats and phone calls from extremists for a long time but these threats cannot stop me from working on behalf of the minorities of the country,” Federal Minorities Minister Shahbaz Bhatti told AsiaNews.

A Catholic, Mr Bhatti said that recent threats against him are the consequence of his call for justice on behalf of the victims of the Gojra violence and his commitment to human rights and the repeal of the controversial blasphemy laws.

On 30 July thousands of Muslim fundamentalists descended upon the village of Koriyan where they set 51 Christian homes on fire. Two days later, on 1 August, at least 3,000 extremists went after the Christian community in Gojra, burning seven people to death (including two children and three women), and injuring another 19 whilst torching about a hundred homes.

The minister, who is also president of the All Pakistan Minorities Alliance (APMA), said that “the government is well informed about these fresh threats.”

“The extremist elements are angry,” he added, “because we are doing our best to provide protection and justice to the victims of Gojra and for the elimination of all discriminatory laws in the country.”

“I am not scared of these cowardly threats,” he said. “I stand firm with regards to my mission,” which is to ensure “equal rights for minorities” and provide them with “a respectable status in society”.

Furthermore, he said he was ready “for any kind of sacrifice for his people,” prepared to “continue his struggle till the last drop of blood.” Such threats, he insisted, “cannot stop me”.

In Pakistan there have always been elements “against peace and social harmony” but “we have to fight against them, courageously.”

Recently the National Commission for Justice and Peace (NCJP) of the Pakistani Catholic Church openly referred to the latest violence against religious minorities in Kasur, Gojra and elsewhere as it launched a petition to repeal the discriminatory articles in the Pakistan Penal Code

According to NCJP figures, at least 964 people have been charged between 1986 and August 2009under the Code’s blasphemy provisions. They include 479 Muslims, 119 Christians, 340 Ahmadis, 14 Hindus and 10 of unknown religion.

Some 32 people have also been victims of extra-judicial killing by angry mobs or individuals, most of whom have not been prosecuted.

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