03/03/2022, 18.40
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Catholics and civil society groups honour the memory of Minister Bhatti in Lahore

by Shafique Khokhar

On 2 March 2011, the Catholic politician was gunned by armed Taliban because of his fight in favour of minorities and against abuses under the country’s blasphemy legislation. His work is still an example of how rights can be respected in the country. During his visit to Pakistan, the archbishop of Canterbury paid tribute to the victims of the All Saints Church.

Lahore (AsiaNews) – Catholics, activists and ordinary citizens gathered yesterday to mark the 11th anniversary of the assassination by the Taliban of Shahbaz Clement Bhatti, Pakistan’s Federal Minister for Minority Affairs at the time.

Bhatti, a Catholic, was a leading advocate for human rights, the protection of religious minorities (Christian and non-Christian), and confessional harmony in the South Asian country.

He was killed execution style on 2 March 2011 as he made his way to work, ostensibly because of his political and humanitarian activity.

The minister's strenuous opposition to the abuses committed in the name of blasphemy legislation was one of the reasons for the murder.

During the memorial service, participants urged the Pakistani government to take all necessary measures to protect human rights, boost social cohesion, and fight extremism and terrorism.

Joseph Jansen, president of Voice for Justice, highlighted Bhatti’s work for equal rights and his tireless struggle for justice against discrimination and all forms of extremism.

Those who sought his death “have not been eliminated,” Jansen said, this despite the national plan to fight terrorism.

Bhatti renewed the battle against the way blasphemy legislation was abused and opposed lynching perpetrated in the name of religion.

For human rights activist Ashiknaz Khokhar, Minister Bhatti achieved several goals during his time in government, including greater representation for minorities in the Senate, a 5 per cent quota in public sector employment, and an annual national day for minorities on 11 August.

His memory is a legacy to be preserved and valued even today at the religious, political and social levels through interfaith dialogue and protection of rights.

For Asif Bastian, Bhatti was an "ambassador of interfaith harmony and human rights, and a symbol of the struggle for the rights of the downtrodden”. He should “be remembered as a voice for the voiceless”.

His death left a void “hard to fill”, said Ilyas Samuel, while Carol Noreen hopes that his sacrifice can awake minds and move people to “work together for the promotion of peace and justice.”

Finally, Bishop Johnson Robert stressed that the best way to remember Bhatti is to redouble efforts to help Pakistan “pull back from the abyss, confront extremism in all its forms, and restore Jinnah[*]'s vision of the country.”

The Archbishop of Canterbury, the Most Rev Justin Welby, who was on three-day official visits to Pakistan over the week-end, also issued an appeal against abuses committed in the name of blasphemy.

The head of the Church of England slammed the legislation for the way it is being misused to target non-Muslim minorities, including Christians and Hindus, who live under constant fear.

The prelate also condemned the attack on two Christian clergymen in Peshawar on 30 January (one of them died) and paid tribute to the victims of the attack against the All Saints Church, scene of a suicide bombing in September 2013 that left more than a hundred people dead.

[*] Mohammad Ali Jinnah (1876-1948), founder of Pakistan.

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