Islamabad (AsiaNews) - Abid Malik, one of the two suspects in the murder of Shahbaz Bhatti, was cleared of the charges laid against him and is expected to be released shortly. In today's hearing before the Anti-terrorism court in Rawalpindi, police said they had no evidence of his guilt. He had been arrested on request of Pakistani authorities a few days ago in the United Arab Emirates with the help of Interpol and then repatriated to stand trial. The other suspect, Zia-ur-Rehman, is still at large. For Catholic leaders, it is increasingly clear that investigators are trying to delay things and do not intend to punish the authors of the crime.
The assassination of Shahbaz Bhatti, Pakistan's Minority Affairs minister and a Catholic, is still shrouded in mystery. He was shot 30 times on 2 March 2011 in Islamabad. Muslim fundamentalist groups are suspected because they had threatened his life in the past for his fight against the country's blasphemy legislation.
Since the murder, several attempts have been made to mislead the investigation, with suggestions that Bhatti was killed in a personal vendetta or a family feud, not in connection with his political activity, something that Catholic leaders have always denounced (see Jibran Khan, "Assassination of Shahbaz Bhatti: new falsehoods from the police," in AsiaNews, 17 July 2011, and "Smoke screen and false news to hide Shahbaz Bhatti's assassins," in AsiaNews, 9 August 2011).
In today's court hearing, police said that, following Malik's interrogation, no evidence emerged about his responsibility. He was not involved in the murder, a charge he always denied, and should be released shortly. Others previously held in connection with the case were equally freed.
The two suspects, Zia-ur-Rehman and Abid Malik, are thought to be former Faisalabad Christian converts to Islam who had a monetary dispute with the Bhatti family.
Hafiz Nazar, a former Protestant clergyman, had accused them. He was detained after his phone was wiretapped and he was heard talking about their "involvement". However, during his interrogation, Nazar turned out to be "mentally unstable" and not a reliable witness.
Interviewed by AsiaNews, Mgr Rufin Anthony, bishop of Islamabad and a personal friend to Shahbaz, said, "This is another delaying tactic". In the end, "Justice delayed is justice denied".
For the prelate, the police are to blame. They are just toying with people, spreading rumours and arresting people in order to show that they are not involved.
"We demand the arrest of the real culprits," the bishop said. Instead, the "Police is letting Malik off the hook."