Islamabad: Shahbaz Bhatti’s alleged murderer in prison, awaiting interrogation
by Jibran Khan
Remand order against Abid Malik, arrested recently in Dubai. Zia ur Rehman, the second suspect in the assassination of a Catholic minister, remains at large. Doubts and fears of the Christian community that it is a smoke screen to protect the real culprits, from Islamic extremist fringe.
Islamabad (AsiaNews) – Pakistan’s anti-terrorism court has issued a remand order, lasting seven days, against Abid Malik, one of two men suspected of murdering a Catholic Minister for Religious Minorities Shahbaz Bhatti . The man was arrested recently in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, with the help of Interpol. Yesterday afternoon, along with his wife and son he landed at Lahore, among tight security, he was subjected to detention and will be questioned in the coming hours. However, Zia ur Rehman, the second suspect - according to investigators - to have taken part in the murder, on 2 March in Islamabad is still at large. Rehman fled to Dubai and is hiding in an undisclosed location.

The arrest in cooperation between the Pakistani security forces and international police marks a turning point in the investigation into the murder of a Catholic minister, victim of an ambush in the streets of the capital, during which more than 30 shots were fired. However, intelligence sources have called for calm and the heads of the Church of Pakistan do not believe in a quick resolution of the case. Bishop Rufin Anthony of Islamabad / Rawalpindi, recalls the different versions on the dynamics and suspicions that have circulated in recent months, and criticizes the police who "seem to protect the guilty and not conduct a serious investigation."

Commenting to AsiaNews on the suspect’s arrest, the bishop speaks of a "ray of light", but adds that "the investigative team does not seem to truly believe that Rehman and Abid are implicated in the affair." In the past the judges "have released the suspects for lack of evidence" and wonders who the real perpetrators of the act are and "who the people are that they are trying to save?". "But one day - Msgr. Anthony concludes - the truth will out ...".

Shahbaz Bhatti, a Catholic Prime Minister in an overwhelmingly Muslim country, was assassinated for his valiant battle against the blasphemy laws and in defense of Asia Bibi, a Christian mother of five children sentenced to death based on the "black law" . Following the murder a Pakistani extremist group claimed responsibility for the act, announcing that the politician was killed for his views on blasphemy. Although the investigations were directed at first among fundamentalist circles, which are considered the main suspects, with the passage of time attempts at misdirection have emerged, strongly denounced by the Catholic leaders (see AsiaNews 17/09/2011 Assassination of Shahbaz Bhatti: new falsehoods from the police and AsiaNews 09/08/2011 Smoke screen and false news to hide Shahbaz Bhatti’s assassins).

The two suspects in the death, Zia-ur-Rehman and Abid Malik, are reportedly two ex-Christians from Faisalabad, who converted to Islam, who had some trouble with Bhatti family-related properties. They were implicated by a former Protestant minister, Hafiz Nazar, arrested in recent months because - in an intercepted phone call - he spoke of the two’s "involvement" in the death of Bhatti. Moreover, an interrogation revealed that Nazar is "mentally unstable" and can not be trusted as a witness. That the police released him following days. Now, with Malik Abid’s arrest, the track of a personal disagreement over to a mutual claims to land has resurfaced. A theory that does not convince the Pakistani Christian community.