03/03/2011, 00.00
PAKISTAN
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Bhatti assassination: funeral tomorrow in Punjab as Muslims condemn the murder

Pakistan’s Minority Affairs minister will be laid to rest in his native village. Hundreds of people protest in Islamabad, setting tyres on fire and shouting slogans. Muslim religious leaders and scholars deplore the “brutal murder”. The press slams a weak government, incapable of stopping the violence.

Islamabad (AsiaNews) – The funeral of Minority Affairs Minister Shahbaz Bhatti, assassinated by a group of extremists, will take place in his native village of Khushpur (Punjab).  Hundreds of people blocked traffic in Islamabad to protest his murder, setting tyres on fire and shouting slogans against anti-Christian violence. The authorities had to redirect the flow of cars and motorcycles to other roads. The death of the Catholic lawmaker has caused outrage and anger among Muslims as well, who, with few exceptions, have condemned the brutal killing.

Shahbaz Bhatt’s body will be laid to rest tomorrow at 1 pm in his native village of Khushpur, near the town of Samundri, not far from Faisalabad, in eastern Punjab province. His mother and two brothers, who should arrive later today, are expected at the ceremony.

Police has released a facial composite of one of the members of the group that gunned down the Catholic lawmaker. He is a dark-skinned male, probably from Punjab.

The terrorists used in all likelihood an AK47, pumping 30 bullets into the head and chest of the victim, fleeing the scene on a white vehicle.

The death of Shahbaz Bhatti, a minority rights advocate who led the fight against abuses committed in the name of blasphemy law and who came to the defence of Asia Bibi, a 45-year-old Christian woman sentenced to death in accordance with the ‘black law’, has sent shock waves among Pakistani Muslims.

Mohammad Mehfooz Ahmed, an Islamic scholar member of the Islamic Ideological Council in Islamabad, condemned the “brutal murder”, which he describes as a “cowardly act”. He recalls the Catholic lawmaker as a “brave man”, who was engaged in remarkable “efforts for interfaith harmony”. However, for him, “the blood of Salman Taseer and Shahbaz Bhatti can be found on the hands of the PPP government”, which failed to provide them with adequate protection.

Mohammad Azam, imam of the Badshahi Mosque in Lahore, is “shocked” by the news of Bhatti’s murder. “He was a good friend. For the imam, sadly in Pakistan, “People don’t have the right to express themselves” anymore. “We call it a democratic government”, he said in reference to the current administration. “The people who have claimed the responsibility are not Muslims; in fact they are not human. Islam is a religion of peace. Our religion teaches us to protect minorities, not to kill them. We need tolerance and harmony; we will join the Christian Community in the three days mourning.”

Meanwhile, Pakistani media have also come in for criticism even as some outlets try to separate Bhatti’s death from his struggle against the blasphemy law. “We are fast turning into a violent society,” the Daily Times said in an editorial. Following the PPP government’s spineless response to Mr Taseer’s assassination, “extremist groups feel that they have a free hand to do as they please”.

The paper is especially critical of the lapses in security around the politician, saying that officials should not have entertained Bhatti’s rejection of a security detail.

In addition, it finds “astonishing that even though the debate on any amendment or repeal of blasphemy laws died with the death of Mr Taseer, the religious right continues to play this card to justify violence.”

The Dawn criticised both state and government. For the paper, the “government is weak [. . .] more interested in its own Machiavellian survival,” and so is willing to make compromises with the country’s religious right.

The country too is not off the hook, especially in its extremist and totalitarian definition of religion, whereby claims can be made that “Pakistan was created in the name of Islam (read, a theocratic state).” If such is the case, “only Muslims (mainly orthodox Sunnis) have the right to rule, run and benefit from this country. ‘Minority’ religions and ‘heretical Islamic sects’, who are citizens of Pakistan are not to be trusted. They need to be isolated constitutionally, socially and culturally.”

Surprisingly, The Nation rejected any link between the ‘black law’ and Bhatti’s murder. For the newspaper, “the tragedy, seemingly, has nothing to do with the blasphemy law”. Instead, “It’s a well-planned conspiracy to destabilise Pakistan and bring it under criticism at the international level.”

In fact, the paper goes further, claiming that the murdered minister was in favour of “death to blasphemers” (a view Bhatti never held). Under the circumstances, “A man having such views cannot be supposed to oppose the blasphemy law”. (JK-DS)

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