05/08/2014, 00.00
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Paul Bhatti: Truth on attacks in Pakistan, but support for institutions

The former minister hopes the perpetrators of the attack on journalist Hamid Mir are found and brought to justice. But at the same time, he emphasizes the "sacrifices" made by the military and invites people not to "destabilize" the institutions. People continue to die in Pakistan: an armed commando kill Rashid Rehman, a prominent activist in the fight against blasphemy .

Islamabad ( AsiaNews) - "We condemn the violent attack against this journalist, but at the same time, it is also necessary to emphasize the sacrifices made by the military [for the country]. The perpetrators of this attack are criminals that Pakistan seems unable to control and stop",  Paul Bhatti tells AsiaNews.

The former Federal Minister for National Harmony and leader of the All Pakistan Minorities Alliance (APMA)  was commenting in the violence against TV reporter Hamid Mir, on April 19 , who was brutally beaten by a group of unknown assailants.

However , in the meantime another high profile murder has taken place: the victim was a human rights lawyer and activist Rashid Rehman (pictured), a leading figure in the defense of those accused of blasphemy. He had long been subject to threats from Islamic extremists and was killed in cold blood last night by a commando in Multan, Punjab. Coordinator of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan ( HRCP ), he was at the forefront in the battle for human rights and freedom in the Asian nation. Civil society has resoundly condemned the murder and expressed its condolences to the family for an " irreparable loss " and announced a demonstration for later today.

Controversy continues to surround the story of the TV journalist Hamid Mir . In recent days, the judge Muhammad Jehangir Awan opened an investigation file against GeoTv and his brother Amir Mir, for having libeled Pakistani intelligence (ISI) . Colleagues and family say that the reporter was targeted because of his reports into the investigations carried out on the most controversial events of the recent past. He is the most popular face of television journalism in Pakistan, one of the most dangerous for journalists nations in the world - as evidenced by a recent survey by Reporters Without Borders (RSF ).

The army spokesman, while expressing solidarity with the journalist, defines the family's allegations as the result of "emotionalism" and noted the behavior of GeoTv management as "irresponsible". Experts in Pakistani politics point out that the story is the result of an ongoing war on the national media market - with GeoNews which holds 70 % of advertising revenue - under increasing government and military pressure on the press.

Hamid Mir has testified before the commission of inquiry in Karachi, called to shed light on his attack; He was shot six times, but the bullets did not injure any vital organs and hence his life was spared.  He refused to make any official statements to the committee whose members were chosen from among Pakistani intelligence and other security forces.  The first reporter to interview Osama bin Laden after the September 11 attacks, already in 2012 he survived an assassination attempt by the Taliban and was repeatedly the subject of death threats from Islamist groups .

Interviewed by AsiaNews on the matter Paul Bhatti - brother of former Federal Minister for Minorities Shahbaz, assassinated by Islamic extremists in March 2011 for his opposition to the unjust blasphemy laws - calls for "concrete evidence to figure out who is behind the attack". The Catholic activist said that "over 4 thousand people have lost their lives" in the fight against terrorism, from the senior generals to ordinary police officers. This is why it is necessary to oppose those who "want to further destabilize the region". APMA leaders, says the Catholic politician and activist, demand that " light be shed on the matter as soon as possible and that those responsible are caught and brought to justice". However , he cautions against any hasty and baseless accusations "against higher institutions that ultimately destabilize the country."

At the same time, the former minister proposes further dialogue and confirms the go-ahead of a project aimed at the creation of a forum " in a position to control and combat the phenomenon of terrorism justified under the guise of religion". The issue can no longer be limited to the  protection of minorities as important as this is, says Bhatti, but must also tackle the "alarming brainwashing that is done to children" in some training centers for terrorism. Back from a long tour that has touched the United States, Canada and the Vatican, where he met with Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the Catholic activist confirms the "desire" to give life to a reality that can involve even moderate Muslim countries, such as Turkey, to "promote projects and take concrete steps on the path of dialogue, debate and encounter" . In Pakistan , even at the government level and among Muslim religious leaders and imams there is a "fertile ground for change" , but "international support" is also needed . In order to prevent acts of violence and accusations of blasphemy, he concludes, " it is not enough just to change the law on blasphemy, we need to work at a grass root level, to convince those who support this law and to establish a direct dialogue" as in the case of young Rimsha Masih. (DS)

(Shafique Khokhar collaborated)


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