Shahbaz Bhatti, the first Federal Minister for Minorities in Pakistan, a position he held since 2 November 2008, was shot dead yesterday shortly after he left his mother's home in Islamabad. He came from a Catholic family deeply committed to justice. Of his work he said: 'I only want a place at the feet of Jesus. I want my life, my character, my actions to speak for me and say that I am a follower of Jesus Christ'.
The murdered minister a month ago in Dubai
Here is a report from Columban Father Robert McCulloch who has been in Pakistan since 1978 after spending eight years in Mindanao.
MURDER IN THE NAME OF RELIGION
Murder in the name of religion took a further ugly step in Pakistan today 2 March 2011 when Shahbaz Bhatti, Federal Minister for Minorities, was killed by 4 gunmen in Islamabad.
Shahbaz Bhatti, a member of the Pakistan People's Party of the slain Benazir Bhutto, had been minister for 3 years. He was 43 years old and unmarried. He had gone in mid-morning to visit his mother in Sector 8 of the residential area of Islamabad and was gunned down as he left his mother's home. Leaflets thrown at the place of the murder claim that it was carried out by Al Qaeda but real responsibility lies in the extensive Islamic extremist networks of urban violence which have been funded by Wahabi sources from Saudi Arabia.
Shahbaz Bhatti had insistently called for the amendment of the blasphemy laws which have been abused and mis-used in Pakistan since their introduction by the military dictator, Zia ul Haq. A solid legal opinion in Pakistan has declared that these laws are against the constititutional law of Pakistan and have no justification in the Islamic religious law.
The murdered federal minister had defended Aasia Bibi, the Christian woman who had been condemned to death on a charge of blasphemy because she refused to abandon her Christian faith and become a Muslim. Bhatti visited the Vatican in December 2010 and presented his appeal for justice to Pope Benedict XVI who then called for religious freedom and justice for persecuted Christians in Pakistan during his adddress in the first week of January 2011 to diplomats accredited to the Holy See.
The religiously-motivated murder of Shahbaz Bhatti follows on the murder of Salmaan Taseer, governor of the Punjab, on 4 January 2011, who had also called for a close re-examination of the discriminatory blasphemy laws.
Murder on religious grounds is propagated in Pakistan by Islamic extremists as an act pleasing to God which guarantees the immediate salvation of the murderer and his family. The perversion of the Pakistani education system and the distortion of religious values about which Pope Benedict alerted the world in his Regensberg address has arrived at its logical conclusion with these murders in Pakistan. How many more such muders will take place until honest Muslims in Pakistan and elsewhere and the world community at large take a stand against this evil and barbarous perversion of religion.
Fr Robert McCulloch SSC has worked in Pakistan since 1978. He sits on the administrative board for St Elizabeth’s Hospital with James Francis, the Administrator of St Elizabeth’s hospital and nephew of the murdered minister, Shahbaz Bhatti. He also sent this report:
CATHOLIC SCHOOLS IN PAKISTAN CLOSE FOR THREE DAYS PROTEST
All Catholic schools in Pakistan will close from Wednesday to Friday this week [March 3-5] in a nationwide protest against the religiously-motivated murder of Shahbaz Bhatti, Federal Minister for Minorities, in Islamabad on Tuesday.
Shahbaz Bhatti's murder was carried out by a group of four gunmen while he was visitng his mother. Leaflets scattered by the gunmen at the scene of the shooting claim that the gunmen were linked to Al Qaeda and the Taliban of Pakistan but any of the foreign-funded Islamic extremist groups in Pakistan could be responsible for the murder.
According to the leaflets left at the murder scene and shown on Pakistan television on Tuesday afternoon, the killing was carried out as part of a jihad [religious war] to eliminate a committee of people which had been formed to amend the laws of Pakistan about blasphemy. The leaflets said that Shahbaz Bhatti was killed because he was a Christian kaffir [unbeliever] and blasphemer who had become chairman of this committee. The leaflets threaten that the "by the grace of Allah, all the members of this committee will be killed one by one and sent to hell".
The Catholic Church has a wide network of schools throughout Pakistan including leading schools and colleges in the major cities and a system of primary and secondary schools in other towns and rural areas. Benazir Bhutto, murdered leader of the Pakistan People's Party, General Perwez Musharaf, recently ousted president of Pakistan, and Nawaz Sharif, leader of the powerful Pakistan Muslim League which is the governing party in the Punjab, all attended Catholic schools in Pakistan.
Bhatti's funeral will take place at his ancestral village of Khushpur in central Punjab near Faisalabad on Friday this week. Khushpur ["town of joy"] is a predominantly Catholic village of more than 1000 families. Amongst those attending will be two of the murdered minister's brothers, Dr Paul Bhatti, a pediatric surgeon who lives in Italy, and Peter Bhatti who lives in Canada and supports many Catholic charitable activities in Pakistan.
Shahbaz Batti meeting Pope Benedict last September
VATICAN CITY, 2 MAR 2011 (VIS) - Given below is the text of a declaration made this morning by Holy See Press Office Director Fr. Federico Lombardi S.J. concerning the assassination of Shabbaz Bhatti, the Pakistani minister for minorities.
"The assassination of Shahbaz Bhatti, Pakistani minister for minorities, is another terrible episode of violence. It shows how right the Pope is in his persistent remarks concerning violence against Christians and against religious freedom in general.
"Bhatti was the first Catholic to hold such an office. We recall how he was received by the Holy Father in September last year, and how he bore witness to his own commitment to peaceful coexistence among the religious communities of his country.
"Our prayers for the victim, our condemnation for this unspeakable act of violence, our closeness to Pakistani Christians who suffer hatred, are accompanied by an appeal that everyone many become aware of the urgent importance of defending both religious freedom and Christians who are subject to violence and persecution".