Murderers of Pakistan Minority Affairs Minister Must be Brought to Justice
3 March 2011 4:02 am
(03 March 2011, Bangkok) The Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA) strongly condemns the assassination of Pakistan’s Minority Affairs Minister, Shahbaz Bhatti who was allegedly killed for his opposition of Pakistan’s controversial blasphemy law. The cowardly attack on the Minister by the unidentified gunmen on 2 March 2011 took place when he was travelling to work through a residential district in Islamabad.
FORUM-ASIA strongly urges the Government of Pakistan to immediately investigate the heinous killing of Pakistan’s Minorities Minister, Shahbaz Bhatti and to bring all the criminals involved in the murder to justice. The government of Pakistan should convey a strong message that such brutal crimes in the name of defending religion will not be tolerated in Pakistan.
FORUM-ASIA regrets the failure of the Government of Pakistan to provide security to Minister Bhatti, who had received direct death threats from the extremist groups after calling for changes to the controversial blasphemy law. These threats had become more real after the brutal assassination of the Governor of Punjab, Salman Taseer, in January. The Governor was murdered by one of his police guards for his opposition to the blasphemy law and for supporting Asia Bibi, a Christian woman convicted of blasphemy.
FORUM-ASIA has serious concerns over the development of alarming situations in Pakistan, especially a series of targeted killings and attacks against the influential policy makers and religious minorities by the extremist. FORUM-ASIA is also deeply disturbed that the law enforcement officials of Pakistan have repeatedly failed to prevent such heinous crimes despite the fact these crimes have been committed in broad daylight. The religious minorities are being targeted by the non-state actors who are operating with impunity. On March 1, 2011, Mr. Naem Sabir, Khuzdar District Coordinator of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) was killed by the unidentified gunmen riding a motorcycle when he was sitting at his stationery shop in Chakar Khan Road. FORUM-ASIA condemns such killings and strongly urges the Government of Pakistan to investigate, prosecute and punish the perpetrators.
FORUM-ASIA also urges the Government of Pakistan to make necessary amendments to the blasphemy law and adopt concrete measures to protect religious minorities in accordance with the international human rights laws. The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), to which Pakistan is a party, provides for the protection on the right to freedom of religion.
The Government of Pakistan must make immediate intervention in order to protect the life and liberty of those persons in Pakistan who are under direct death threats, including senior government officials and parliamentarians who advocate for the rights of the religious minorities in Pakistan.
FORUM-ASIA strongly supports the press release on by the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights issued on 2 March 2011[i]. FORUM-ASIA also supports concerns raised by the UN experts including United Nation Independent Expert on Minority Issues, Ms. Gay McDougall, and the UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression, Mr. Frank La Rue, who have jointly urged the Government of Pakistan to investigate the brutal killing of Mr. Bhatti and bring the perpetrators to justice.
FORUM-ASIA also calls on the Government of Pakistan to immediately invite the UN Special Procedures including the UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion, UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders and UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression to assist the government in addressing the issues of blasphemy law and freedom of religion, freedom of expression and protection of Human Rights Defenders in Pakistan.
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On 2nd March 2011, Pakistan’s minorities’ minister, Shahbaz Bhatti, has been assassinated by unidentified gunmen in the capital, Islamabad.
Bhatti, the only Christian member of the federal cabinet, was an outspoken advocate of reforms to Pakistan’s controversial blasphemy laws, and his death comes two months after the Punjab governor, Salmaan Taseer, was gunned down just a few miles away.
According to the information received by FORUM-ASIA, the television stations said that up to four gunmen opened fire on Bhatti at close range as he left his Islamabad home on Wednesday with his niece on his way to cabinet meeting. The gunmen reportedly pulled Bhatti’s niece and guard out of his vehicle, and then shot him several times inside the car. The minister was rushed to a nearby hospital where he was pronounced dead. The killers escaped. TV stations reported they left behind pamphlets for a Taliban-affiliated group.
One report said the pamphlet has been signed by a group named “Fidayeen e Muhammad” and “al-Qaida in Punjab”, strongly suggesting a link between the killing and the blasphemy controversy. According to the news source, television pictures showed Bhatti’s bullet-ridden car and police officers entering the house amid heavy rain.
Bhatti was vocal against the blasphemy law and he had joined Salmaan Taseer in championing the case of Aasia Bibi, a Christian woman who was sentenced to death last November for allegedly committing blasphemy against the prophet Muhammad.
Minister Bhatti was determined to take necessary measure for the protection of the religious minorities including legal amendment in the controversial blasphemy law which has been used against the vulnerable religious minorities. He had played a significant role in promoting interfaith harmony in Pakistan and supported the amendments proposed by legislator Sherry Rehman in the blasphemy law.
[i] UN Human Rights Chief Condemns Pakistan Assassination, Urges Reform of Blasphemy Laws, available at: http://www.ohchr.org/en/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=10784&LangID=E