Bhatti killing causes shock and horror

By staff writers
3 Mar 2011

Following the assassination on 2 March 2011, of the Pakistan Minority Affairs Minister Shahbaz Bhatti who was the first Christian to be a member of the Pakistani President's Cabinet, church leaders and spokespeople have condemned the killing.

The Archbishops of Canterbury and York, Rowan Williams and John Sentamu issued a joint statement saying: "It is with the greatest shock and sorrow that we have heard of the assassination of Mr Shahbaz Bhatti."

"This further instance of sectarian bigotry and violence will increase anxiety worldwide about the security of Christians and other religious minorities in Pakistan, and we urge that the Government of Pakistan will do all in its power to bring to justice those guilty of such crimes and to give adequate protection to minorities."

Dr. Geoff Tunnicliffe, international director of the World Evangelical Alliance, said he found it hard to express in words his response to the murder, especially as it came just a day after he had received an "upbeat email" from Bhatti.

"Shahbaz Bhatti had become a good friend and was a great hero of the faith," he said in an email to colleagues.

The Vatican said the assassination reinforces what Pope Benedict XVI had been calling for – the need to protect Christians against violence.

"The assassination of … Bhatti ... is another terrible episode of violence. It shows how right the Pope is in his persistent remarks concerning violence against Christians and against religious freedom in general," the Vatican stated.

"Our prayers for the victim, our condemnation for this unspeakable act of violence, our closeness to Pakistani Christians who suffer hatred, are accompanied by an appeal that everyone many become aware of the urgent importance of defending both religious freedom and Christians who are subject to violence and persecution."

Christine Elliott, Secretary for External Relationships for the Methodist Church in Britain, said: “The killing of Shahbaz Bhatti is deeply shocking. He is known to have understood the potential consequences for his stand on the interpretation of Pakistan’s blasphemy law, but as minister for minorities he was clear that it was his obligation to promote tolerance, acceptance and justice for Pakistani citizens regardless of their religious affiliation."

Bhatti, a Roman Catholic, had spoken out against Pakistan's blasphemy laws, which he said were being abused to persecute religious minorities, including the tiny population of Christians. He was seeking reform, specifically an amendment, so that the law would not be used "as a tool of victimisation," he told the international new channel France 24, earlier this year.

He also had defended a Christian woman, Asia Bibi, after she was sentenced to death in November for allegedly insulting the prophet Muhammad.

His position angered extremists who issued death threats against him. Fliers left at the scene of the killing were signed by two Islamist militant groups – al-Qaida and the Punjabi Taliban – described Bhatti as an "infidel" and warned others who oppose the country's blasphemy laws that the same fate awaits them. Though well aware of the threats, Bhatti was committed to standing up for religious minorities and for human rights.

He is the second high-profile figure calling for reform to be killed this year. Salman Taseer, the governor of Pakistan's Punjab province, who denounced Pakistan's blasphemy laws and promoted tolerance, was shot dead in January.

[Ekk/4]

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