GENEVA: Pakistan on Thursday called on other countries not to link Wednesday’s killing of its only Christian government minister to the wider issue of blasphemy.
Minorities Minister Shahbaz Bhatti, who had called for changes to Pakistan’s blasphemy laws, was shot in broad daylight in Islamabad. Taliban militants said they had assassinated him as a punishment for blasphemy.
“We believe it would not be helpful to link the highly regrettable killing squarely in the context of defamation (of religion) and blasphemy,” Pakistani delegate Asim Ahmad said in a speech to the United Nations Human Rights Council.
In the rights council, Pakistan speaks for the 57-nation Organisation of Islamic States (OIC) which is campaigning hard with support from African states and others like Russia and Cuba for what critics dub “an international blasphemy law”.
Ahmad said freedom of speech could not justify defamation and blasphemy. “It is important to prevent the deliberate campaign of defamation of Islam and its Prophet,” he said.
The governor of Pakistan’s Punjab province, Salman Taseer, was also assassinated in January. The killer, one of his official bodyguards, said he shot him because he was calling for reform of the blasphemy law.
Taseer’s killing was welcomed by some in Pakistan, including by judges and lawyers and media commentators. UN human rights chief Navi Pillay said on Wednesday this showed Pakistan was “poisoned by extremism.”
Pillay also called for changes in the blasphemy law and appealed to the Pakistani government to take more effective action against extremism.