Twelve years after Shahbaz Bhatti's murder, Pakistani Christians reiterate his message
by Shafique Khokhar

The Christian minister, who was killed in 2011 for his opposition to Islamic extremism and minority rights violations, was commemorated across the country. People miss “his leadership”. Human rights associations bemoan the failure to repeal the blasphemy laws while “the number of falsely accused has increased.”

Sahiwal (AsiaNews) - Christians in Pakistan have marked the 12th anniversary of the death on 2 March 2011 of martyr Shahbaz Bhatti, a federal minister assassinated for speaking out against the abuse of the country’s blasphemy laws.

Special prayers dedicated to the man on the anniversary of his death were recited in churches across the country invoking peace and solidarity.

In Sahiwal, a small town in Punjab, local Christians held a peaceful demonstration and a vigil to remember this great witness of the Pakistan’s Christian community.

Participants chanted slogans for peace and harmony, urging the government to protect religious minorities and take concrete steps to stop the abuse of blasphemy laws. Nuns, catechists, teachers and young Christians attended the event.

"Shahbaz Bhatti was a brave leader,” said Ashknaz Khokhar, head of the local Catholic youth group, in his address to those present. He “stood against fundamentalism and extremism” and “always promoted his Christian faith and talked about the promotion of the values of peace.”

For the youth leader, "He believed that Christians can uplift their lives only by healthy participation in the mainstream political process. We must follow his legacy and keep speaking out for human rights and peace in the country.”

Speaking to the participants, Sr Josephine Michael said: “Shahbaz Bhatti was assassinated because he raised his voice against the misuse of the blasphemy laws and was an advocate for Asia Bibi, a Christian woman victim of the blasphemy laws.

She added: “Catholic bishops always admired his commitment and efforts for the betterment of the Christian community. He always stood up for the rights not only of Christians, but of all marginalised groups.” Everyone “misses his leadership. It is our responsibility to follow in his footsteps and help those who are helpless and be the voice for their rights and dignity.”

Naveed Walter, president of Human Rights Focus Pakistan (HRFP), noted that Shahbaz Bhatti was a great human rights defender. Speaking to AsiaNews, he said that “the 5 per cent job quota and minority representation in the Senate are among his contributions.”

"Today, while remembering his efforts, we urge the government to end the culture of impunity and extremism that the blasphemy laws fuel,” Walter said. To this end, the authorities should “bring to justice his killers and facilitators.”

Indeed, "Violence and victimisation of minorities through discriminatory laws and practices have increased,” he lamented. “Even 12 years after Bhatti's assassination, the blasphemy laws have not been repealed”; instead, “the number of falsely accused has increased.”

Under the circumstances, "The government should take serious steps to address such serious issues because [. . .] Muslims are also targeted by such discriminatory laws.”