Islamabad: no civil award for “martyr” Shahbaz Bhatti
by Jibran Khan
President Zardari releases a list of 185 officials recipient of civil awards but the name of the slain Catholic minister is not on it, that of Punjab Governor Salman Taseer is. For the bishop of Islamabad, the omission is “surprising” given the fact that Bhatti “gave his life” for the country’s minorities.
Islamabad (AsiaNews) – For the Pakistani government, “martyr” Shahbaz Bhatti, who was murdered on 2 March by Muslim fundamentalists, does not deserve an official civil award. The name of the Catholic minister in fact is not on the list of 185 government officials issued by President Asif Ali Zardari on Tuesday. The award ceremony is scheduled for 23 March 2012.
Punjab Governor Salman Taseer will be among the people honoured that day. He too was slain, in January, for his opposition to the blasphemy rules and for his defence of Asia Bibi, a Catholic mother of five, who was sentenced to death on the basis of rules also known as the ‘black law’. But unlike Bhatti, Taseer was Muslim. Thus, in Pakistan, even after death religious minorities do not have the same rights as the followers of Islam.
The government’s decision to exclude the Catholic minister from its list has been met by criticism within Pakistan’s Christian community and civil society leaders.
Shahbaz Bhatti and Sherry Rehman, a lawmaker who had suggest changes to the blasphemy law, put their lives on the line to defend the country’s minorities, change unfair laws and protect those, like Asia Bibi, who are in danger.
For Mgr Rufin Anthony, bishop of Islamabad/Rawalpindi, “it is surprising that just a few days ago, on Minorities Day, the president stressed the principle of equal rights and highlighted the role minorities played in the growth of Pakistan. Today, when it was time to honour an individual who fought for minority rights” and “gave his life for the cause, he ignored Shahbaz Bhatti.”
The government’s action was “unworthy”, the prelate said. In his view, the authorities should “include Bhatti and Rehman in the list.”
Meanwhile, Pervez Rafique, a member of the Punjab provincial assembly, called for a change to the preamble of the Pakistani constitution to ensure the full implementation of the ideals laid down by Ali Jinnah, the founder of the nation, in his famous address to the country’s constituent assembly in which he insisted on the principles of “equality of rights” for non-Muslims and religious freedom in a secular state (Pakistan is today an Islamic Republic)
For Fr John Maxwell, from the Diocese of Lahore, the Punjabi lawmaker’s proposal is an “encouraging” step.
“In the situation now prevailing in the country, the debate [on the proposal] will begin in the next session,” he said. “We will support minority representatives in the Punjab Assembly” in backing that proposal, which “should be presented in the national assembly as well.”
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