08/09/2011, 00.00
PAKISTAN

Smoke screen and false news to hide Shahbaz Bhatti’s assassins

For a Catholic lawyer and politician, the media are misleading the public. Closely monitoring the investigation into the murder of the Minority Affairs minister, he rejects the family dispute claim, insisting instead on the initial focus, namely “death squads” close to Islamic extremism. On Thursday, Minorities Day, Masses and prayers will be held for Bhatti in Pakistan and around the world.
Lahore (AsiaNews) – Shahbaz Bhatti’s murder was not caused by a “property dispute between relatives” as some Pakistani newspapers have reported today, but is the work of “death squads” linked to Islamic fundamentalism, Tahir Naveed Chaudry told AsiaNews. Mr Naveed is a Catholic lawyer and member of the Punjab provincial legislature. He is also monitoring the investigation into the assassination of the Religious Affairs Minister on behalf of the All Pakistan Minorities Alliance (APMA). Meanwhile, Pakistani Christians are getting ready to remember Shahbaz Bhatti with Masses and prayers next Thursday (11 August), Minorities Day, which Shahbaz had instituted.

Today, citing police sources, newspapers in Pakistan said that police investigators now excluded a religion as a motive for Bhatti’s murder. Instead, they claim that he was killed as a result of a “chronic rivalry” among relatives. The so-called new “evidence” suggests that a family from Bhatti’s native town fled to the United Arab Emirates or Malaysia. Yet, no name has been produced, nor has any information been provided about the alleged authors of the murder. Therefore, there is strong suspicion that such rumours are a pretext to divert attention away from the real culprits.

Contacted by AsiaNews, Tahir Naveed said that newspapers are trying to mislead the public by dismissing “Shabhaz’s martyrdom” as the result of a domestic quarrel. This way, one part of the country can simply forget about the minister, his battles against the blasphemy law and his defence of Asia Bibi and all those who were victims of violence and abuses because of their faith. “Let us hope that the truth will come out,” Naveed said, “and that the country will not forget that he gave his life for all minorities.”

For the Punjabi legislator, “some people are interested in changing the course of the investigation” and alter the truth of the matter. However, one thing cannot be changed, namely that a “death squad” close to Islamic extremism carried out the murder. “Shahbaz had no personal enemies,” the Catholic lawyer said. “We cannot accept claims to that effect, which come on top of allegations of corruption and personal vendettas. Someone has an interest in diverting attention away from Bhatti’s martyrdom, whereas we defend his work in favour of unity and against those who want to sow divisions.”

“Masses and special prayers” will be held next Thursday, 11 August, to mark Minorities Day in Pakistan, and honour the memory of the Catholic minister who gave his life “to defend religious freedom, equal rights, and a secular vision of Pakistan as laid out by the nation’s founder, Ali Jinnah, in 1947.”

A number of events and celebrations are planned in other countries as well, including Italy. Prayers will be held in Rome’s Basilica of St. Bartholomew on the Island (New Martyrs), which contains Shahbaz’s own copy of the Bible. On Thursday, Tahir Naveed Chaudry will be part of a delegation that will meet Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari, who wanted a formal ceremony to honour Bhatti.

Mgr Rufin Anthony, bishop of Islamabad, also strongly rejected media claims about Bhatti’s murder. “It is totally absurd,” he told AsiaNews. “The police keeps changing version day to day.”

For the prelate, the authorities “must take the case seriously” and consider the initial claims made by Punjabi Taliban in relation to the assassination.

For Mgr Rufin, with their stories about vendettas, media reports are “adding insult to injury”; they are an affront to the intelligence of Christians. (DS)

(Jibran Khan contributed to the article)
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