Pakistan’s only Christian official shot dead by Islamic extremists
ISLAMABAD, March 2, 2011 (LifeSiteNews.com) - Pakistan’s only Christian government minister, Shahbaz Bhatti, has been shot dead by Muslim extremists in apparent reprisal for opposing the nation’s “blasphemy law,” according to international media reports.
Bhatti, who was the Minister for Minorities, was driving to work in the capital city of Islamabad today when gunmen sprayed his car with bullets, killing him. Leaflets were left at the scene warning others that the same fate would await them if they opposed the blasphemy law, a measure that critics say is used to persecute religious minorities. Reuters reports that the Pakistani Taliban have taken responsibility for the murder.
The killing of Bhatti follows the January assassination of Salman Taseer, the governor of the state of Punjab, also by Islamic militants, and also for condemning the country’s the blasphemy law. In the climate of fear following the killing, Bhatti had been one of the few government ministers who had openly condemned Taseer’s killing. Following the killing of Taseer, Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari backed off from plans to reform the blasphemy law.
In a video recording of an interview released by the Telegraph, Bhatti said that he had been threatened by the Taliban and other Islamic extremists, but said he was ready to die to protect the rights of Christians. “I am following the cross, and I am ready to die for a cause I am living for my community and suffering people, and I will die to defend their rights,” he said.
Controversy over the blasphemy law has been stirred by the recent conviction of Asia Bibi, a Christian woman who was accused of blasphemy after defending her religious beliefs against the insults of several women in her majority-Muslim village. Her conviction has provoked an international outcry and has led to demands for the repeal or reform of the law.
Bhatti’s killing is the third murder of a major political figure by Islamic extremists in recent years. The first was Benazir Bhutto, leader of the governing People’s Party, in 2007.