The writing on the pamphlets scattered around Tuesday’s crime scene made the motive obvious: the Federal Minister for Minorities Affairs (late) Shahbaz Bhatti was killed in Islamabad for supporting amendments to the blasphemy laws.
His death comes nearly two months after Punjab governor Salmaan Taseer’s assassination. In the aftermath of the case of Aasia Bibi, a Christian woman who was given the death sentence for allegedly committing blasphemy, Taseer, Bhatti and Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) member of the National Assembly Sherry Rehman came under fire by religious-political parties. The PPP distanced itself from Taseer and Rehman, who had submitted a bill in the National Assembly proposing amendments in the blasphemy law.
In January, a flyer distributed in Karachi prior to a rally against any changes in the blasphemy laws said that Bhatti and Rehman had “provoked the religious honour of Pakistan’s Muslims”.
In November, President Asif Ali Zardari had asked Bhatti to form a committee to review the blasphemy laws. After countrywide protests against any amendments or repeal in the laws, the government said no committee had been constituted.
A report by Bhatti on Aasia Bibi’s case concluded that she had not criticised Islam and was innocent. He had also supported amending the blasphemy laws which have been criticised by human rights activists.
Christians have consistently been the target of discrimination and violence in Pakistan. In 2009, riots in Gojra, Punjab over an alleged case of blasphemy saw eight Christians burnt alive and one shot dead. In 1997, Lahore High Court judge Arif Iqbal Bhatti, who had acquitted two Christians accused of blasphemy in 1995, was shot dead as he left the court.
In 1998, Bishop John Joseph killed himself outside a court in Sahiwal to draw attention to the case of Ayub Masih, who had been convicted on blasphemy charges.
Published in The Express Tribune, March 4th, 2011.