Christians continued to protest against the assassination of Shahbaz Bhatti and demanded that the government ensure the safety of people raising their voice for the minorities.
Condemning the religious extremists responsible for the assassination, the speakers at the rally demanded that the government take action against such elements and ensure protection of minorities in Pakistan. Many protesters held crosses in their hands as well as placards and banners condemning the murder. They also blocked the road in front of the Lahore Press Club by burning tyres. Early on Thursday, Christians kept gathering at a protest cum mourning camp in front of the Press Club.
After staging a sit-in at the camp, the protesters marched from Lahore Press Club to Faisal Chowk chanting slogans against Talibanisation, extremism and the government for failing to protest rights of minorities. Prominent among those present was Shahbano Taseer, daughter of slain governor Salmaan Taseer.
Aslam Parvaiz Sahotra, head of Pakistan Masiha Millat Party (PMMP), addressing the protesters said that federal and provincial governments had failed in providing protection to minorities. “The situation is going from bad to worse. In the past, it was the blasphemy accused who were unsafe but now those calling for due process are also under threat,” he said. He blamed the government for giving extremist organisations leeway and allowing them to grow so strong that they could now kill whoever they wanted to. “If government continues to patronise such elements, the Christian community would be left with no option but to take extreme steps,” Sahotra said without elaborating what those steps would be.
Saleem Gabriel, another speaker, said that the extremists were mistaking the Christians’ peaceful nature as cowardice. He warned of a mass movement if Bhatti’s assassins were not arrested.
The protesters will also hold a rally on Friday (today).
Hina Jilani of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, in a statement, strongly condemned the killing. “The government should take the protection of the rights of minorities seriously,” she demanded.
Tehrik-e-Minhajul Quran was the first all Muslim NGO that held a protest against Bhatti’s assassination. Speakers said that Islam was a religion of peace that preached protection of minorities’ rights.
Published in The Express Tribune, March 4th, 2011.