Blasphemy law: Minorities minister fears he is “highest target”

Minorities minister Shahbaz Bhatti says he has been receiving death threats since the Aasia Bibi case.

Afp January 13, 2011

ISLAMABAD: Following the recent debate in Pakistan about the blasphemy law and the subsequent assassination of late Governor Punjab Salmaan Taseer for speaking out against the law, Minorities Minister Shabhaz Bhatti, a Christian, who first spoke out against the blasphemy law, believes he is "the highest target right now".

"During this Bibi case I constantly received death threats. Since the assassination of Salmaan Taseer... these messages are coming to me even publicly," Bhatti told AFP.

Bhatti and his allies say the law against defamation of the Prophet Mohammed (pbuh) is often used to settle petty disputes, and human rights activists say the act encourages extremism in a nation already besieged by Taliban attacks.

But in the face of huge public support for the law, the government has said it has no plans to change it.

Bhatti said fatwas, or religious decrees, had been issued calling for him to be beheaded, by extremist clerics in the country who were allowed to publicly spread messages of violence with impunity.

"The government should register cases against all those using hate speeches," said Bhatti, who insists he will work as usual despite the threats.

"I'm not talking about special security arrangements. We need to stand against these forces of terrorism because they're terrorising the country.

"I cannot trust on security.... I believe that protection can come only from heaven, so these bodyguards can't save you."

During a visit to Pakistan to meet senior leaders in Islamabad Wednesday, US Vice President Joe Biden expressed concern over the widespread support for Taseer's killing.

Offering condolences, he said: "The governor was killed simply because he was a voice for tolerance and understanding. To state the obvious, there is no justification, none, for such senseless acts. ...Societies that tolerate such actions end up being consumed by those actions."

Members of the main ruling Pakistan People's Party (PPP), to which Punjab provincial governor Taseer belonged, have slammed security failures that led to the shooting, after police apparently failed to try to overpower the gunman.

Police investigators say that Qadri had previously been screened over security concerns and banned from working in the elite protection force used to protect Taseer.

"We are investigating how he got deputed again for this special duty. Punjab police is also separately investigating this issue," senior police official Haroon Joya told AFP.

Intelligence officials told AFP that public bodyguards are screened every three years by several agencies, with religious views checked as part of the process.

Following the assassination of the governor, the officials said that all departments involved in public protection are reviewing security measures and rescreening anyone working with high profile officials and national leaders.

Liberal politicians in fear

The killing of a provincial governor by his bodyguard has heightened security fears among Pakistan's political liberals who say their voices are being drowned out by rising religious extremism.

Former information minister Sherry Rehman initiated the current controversy when she introduced a bill in November calling for an end to the death penalty for blasphemy.

"I'm sure everyone at the top is worried about this and concerned about the level of security we all have," said Rehman, speaking to AFP from her heavily-guarded home in Karachi, where 50,000 people rallied on Sunday hailing Qadri as a hero.

She said she uses her own private security company instead of public protection, and said they had advised her to stay at home and not to travel to the capital Islamabad.

"I'm not being foolish but I'm going to be rational," she said.

"I don't plan to turn away... I have put the bill in, it's not an extreme position like a repeal bill. They (extremists) can't decide what we think or speak."

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COMMENTS (30)

christian | 9 years ago | Reply | Recommend I would like to say jst one thing all of you shared your own opinion but sorry to say there is no future for christians in pakistan i dont what is going to happen in future with christians but what ever it is its very terrible.
Sonam Malik | 9 years ago | Reply | Recommend Minorities are undoubtedly part of this Pakistan. Islam equally protects the rights and cares the worthy-prestige, of all minorities as well as their respective Prophets. But I, on a very concrete terms, am in the favor such a Blasphemy Law with its emphatic, enforced and institutionalized implementation which equally safeguards the worthy-respect(s) of all Prophets. Why we aren't in favor of such a law (i.e. barrier) which discourages / limits / bounds each individual regardless he / she be a Muslim or Christian or Hindu etc form the act of disrespecting for Prophets. Government should ensure a barrier (i.e. law) to stop more critical circumstances. And we all should being a Pakistani, obey it so that all minorities and majorities can live and worship in at their respective prestigious places with peace. It is an undeniable truth, "Each individual loves own faith / mindset". There is no religion in the world which allows anyone to disrespect others' religion / faith / their respective Prophets. Hence, government should compel each Pakistani just to concentrate / follow only own religion rather to criticize others' religions because no power in this world can control such a thrust which is created thereafter by the destruction of cleric emotions. IF ANYONE DISAGREES, THEN HE/SHE MUST SHARE NEXT RATIONAL SOLUTION.
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