LAHORE: Minority citizens and human rights activists held a large protest against the assassination of Federal Minister for Minority Affairs Shahbaz Bhatti on Wednesday.
The protesters expressed their concern over the insecurity that members of the Christian community face all over the country. Protesters held crosses, placards and banners bearing condemnation of the murder. For some time the protesting crowd blocked the road in front of Lahore Press Club.
Soon after the news of the murder spread, the protesters started reaching the LPC despite the rain and began raising slogans. Prominent among the protesters were National Commission for Peace and Justice director Emanuel Mani, Masiha Millat Party leader Aslam Sahotra, Centre for Human Rights Education director Samson Salamat and human rights activists Shahtaj Qizalbash and Deep.
The protesters demanded the early arrest of those involved in the murder of the minister and chanted slogans against the Taliban, extremist clerics, terrorists as well as the assassin of former Punjab governor Salmaan Taseer.
Emanuel told The Express Tribune about the rising sense of insecurity that had spread among the Christian community. “This incident has spread fear among all minorities living in Pakistan. It means that no one is safe,” he said. Emmanuel said that Shehbaz Bhatti had received life threats but the government had failed to provide him with adequate security. “Following Salman Taseer’s murder there is a question mark on the government’s security arrangements for its ministers,” he said.
Aslam Sahotra said that the murder showed that Pakistani Christians were no longer safe and that extremist elements were now targeting them. “The Christian minority was already feeling insecure after the Asia case and Salmaan Taseer’s assassination. This only adds to it,” he said.
The leadership of the Catholic Church in Pakistan and The Church of Pakistan announced that all missionary institutions including schools, colleges etc run by them would remain closed for the next three days in mourning.
The Joint Committee of Fathers (JCF) issued a statement saying: “We the Church leaders in Pakistan express our deep grief on the assassination of Mr Shahbaz Bhatti. We believe that the country has lost in him a patriotic statesman and a campaigner for interfaith harmony.” The JCF said that Bhatti’s assassination underlined the issue of protection of the life and liberty of religious minorities in the country. “The government needs to go beyond the rhetoric of ‘minorities enjoying all the rights in the country’ and take practical steps to curb extremism in Pakistan,” the JCF said. “If the country becomes a killing field for liberal individuals who exercise their freedom of conscience and expression, it will only embolden the criminals trying to take charge of Pakistan,” they said. JCF officials said that Islam was being distorted to excuse the harassment and suffering of the people by extremists.
Jamaat-i-Islami (JI) Amir Syed Munawar Hasan issued a statement calling the murder of Mr Bhatti as a conspiracy. “The murder appears to be an attempt to divert the public opinion in Pakistan from the Raymond Davis issue,” he said. “There is a possibility there is a CIA hand behind the murder in order to put pressure on the Pakistan government for Raymond’s release,” he added.
Tahreek Hurmat-e-Rasool (Pbuh) convener Maulana Ameer Hamza also called the murder a conspiracy and held that Blackwater was responsible for the assassination. “The conspirators have killed the minister to defame Islam and Pakistan and to make the blasphemy laws seem controversial,” he said. Hamza said that Islam ensured the complete security of life and rights for minorities. He demanded the government unearth the ‘foreign forces involved in this incident’ and that the government resist any foreign pressure regarding the blasphemy laws.
Published in The Express Tribune, March 3rd, 2011.
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