03/07/2012, 00.00
PAKISTAN
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Changes to blasphemy laws and rights for minorities: the legacy of Shahbaz Bhatti

by Jibran Khan - Shafique Khokhar
Meetings, demonstrations and, protest marches recalling the work of the Catholic minister assassinated by extremists. Muslim political leaders against the "abuses" of the black law and open to Christians at the most senior levels of the State. Activists for Human Rights: Government reluctant to identify the culprits.

Islamabad (AsiaNews) - Change the blasphemy laws, initiate investigations leading to the capture of the murderers, ensure greater protection and real equal rights for minorities, revise school curricula and criteria for access, so that institutions also welcome non-Muslims. These are just some of the many points of Pakistani society that should be improved to ensure real equality of all souls that make up the country. These issues have been raised and re-launched in these days as the nation commemorates the first anniversary of the death of Shahbaz Bhatti, a Catholic minister for religious minorities massacred with 30 gun shot wounds on the morning of March 2, 2011 in Islamabad.

Yesterday in the capital, at the Jinnah Convention Center, Government personalities, Muslim leaders and representatives of civil society met to commemorate the "martyr" Bhatti. Farooq Satar, a Muslim politician and leader of the MQM (Mutthaida Quami Movement), emphasized Shahbaz's struggle against the "abuse" of the blasphemy law, and the possibility that Christians and other minorities "have the same rights," including the opportunity "to become Prime Minister and President." Firdous Ashiq Awan, Federal Minister for Information, added that "he lost his life rather than give in to pressure from extremist groups." Maulana Atif Zai, President of the Council for Islamic ideology, spoke of the "remarkable efforts" undertaken by Bhatti for interfaith tolerance and harmony. "We must keep his vision alive - he added - and promot respect among religions."

During the conference Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani also intervened, who received a prize for peace from the Christian community. "The People's Party - he said - recognizes the efforts made by the Federal Minister Bhatti and I am proud to have had him in the executive." Church officials argue, however, that the Pakistani investigations have not led to the capture of the assassins, and even government authorities have not provided full cooperation. "It's a shame - said Bishop Anthony Rufin of Islamabad - that the offenders are released and the executive did not say anything."

Meanwhile, the Christian community and the activists of Faisalabad have paid homage to the Catholic minister, with a public lecture and a march of protest (pictured) organized by Human Rights Focus Pakistan (Hrfp), in collaboration with Global Human Rights Defense ( Ghrd). Naveed Walter, Hrfp President, points the finger at the government which he says is "reluctant" to punish the real culprits, he also mentions the "many innocent victims" of the black laws, which must be defended free of charge and the courts "that must be protected" so they can arrive at a decision free from pressure. George Clement hopes greater representation of Christians in political parties, while Fr. Aftab James Paul wants to revise the textbooks so that they "ensure respect towards religious minorities."

 

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