Islamabad: activists restore desecrated memorial to Shahbaz Bhatti
by Jibran Khan
They removed graffiti and cleaned the monument. The search continues to identify the perpetrators of the act. Paul Bhatti: punish the perpetrators of violence in Lahore and compensate the victims. Cautious optimism for the fate of the young Christian accused of blasphemy, a pretext used by extremists for the attack.

Islamabad (AsiaNews) - The activists of the All Pakistan Minorities Alliance (APMA) have repaired the memorial of Shahbaz Bhatti, a Catholic minister for religious minorities massacred by Islamic fundamentalists in March 2011. The monument was desecrated by unknown persons - religious extremists and common criminals - March 9 last year (click here for photos), but some local media such as a newspaper close to the Protestant Christian community, deny the incident stating that it never happened. Speaking to AsiaNews, Paul Bhatti, brother of Shahbaz and current Minister for National Harmony, confirms "the relocation of the memorial, from which they were stolen candles and flowers and the picture was ruined."

On 9 March, the Christian community in Pakistan suffered two serious attacks: the first in a suburb of Lahore, where a Muslim mob burned 160 houses and two churches, forcing most residents to flee. The raid was sparked by allegations of blasphemy against a Christian, who allegedly - so far without evidence - offended the Prophet Mohammed in a drunken altercation with a young Muslim. On the same day in Islamabad the memorial of Shahbaz Bhatti was vandalized.

Manzoor Ghori, coordinator of APMA in the capital, has taken steps to remove the graffiti from the picture of Shahbaz Bhatti, at the moment a few letters of his name are still marked, which will soon be replaced with others. He adds that "such acts of vandalism will not to stop our battle" for the rights of Christians and all minorities. In addition, the activist does not spare criticism of journalists, media and organizations - including the Pakistan Christian Congress, who denied the "vandalization" of the monument - and who "do not check the facts" behaving "irresponsibly" to alter the truth .

Paul Bhatti, Minister for National Harmony, has also spoken out against the "hypocritical" behavior of this fringe of society, including the Pakistani Christian media guilty of denying "the attack on the memorial of my brother, of which there is both evidence and testimony". He says he does not "yet" know the names of those responsible, but thanks the diligence with which the APMA activists who have managed to repair the damage.

With regard to the recent wave of anti-Christian violence, Bhatti hopes that "the guilty are punished, those who have suffered damage are reimbursed and there are initiatives in the future to prevent a recurrence of such incidents." And as is clear from the investigation, it is increasingly evident that the cause of the violence is economic rather than religious coupled with the connivance of the police who did not intervene with the necessary promptness. "It's a very serious matter - accused the minister - contrary to humanity and religious sensitivity. All mosques in Pakistan have condemned this act." Finally, he has expressed "cautious optimism" for the fate of Sawan Masih, the Christian accused of blasphemy that was the pretext for the assault: "We are in the presence of a false accusation - confirms the minister - with no eye witnesses. It was a drunken altercation, there are no other elements, and so we are confident. "