Pak minorities minister gunned down by radicals
Federal Minister for Minority Affairs, Shahbaz Bhatti, was brutally murdered on Wednesday morning by unidentified assailants while on his way to attend a Cabinet meeting here.
Shahbaz Bhatti (42), a Christian, was an outspoken advocate of review of blasphemy laws enacted by military dictator Gen Ziaul Haq in 1980s that have claimed many lives at the hands of fanatics.
The killers left behind leaflets claiming to be members of an erstwhile-unknown group “Fidayeen e Muhammad” and “Al-Qaida in Punjab”. But officials said the murder was linked to the blasphemy controversy. “It’s a second killing of a high-profile government figure in less than two months over the issue,” they said. Earlier, in January, Punjab Governor Salman Taseer had been brutally murdered.
The police said the unknown assailants intercepted Bhatti vehicle after he emerged from his residence in Islamabad’s I-8 sector known for frequent violent incidents. He had no security escort. The killers stopped his car at a busy spot, pulled the driver and Bhatti's niece out of the vehicle and then sprayed bullets on the minister, who succumbed to injuries before being shifted to hospital.
The gruesome murder cast a pall of gloom in the country, evoking strong condemnation at home and abroad. President Asaf Ali Zardari and Prime Minister Yousuf Gilani called for a thorough probe but critics said similar events have gone undetected in the past.
Prominent human rights activists IA Rehman and Asma Jehangir condemned the murder and blamed the state and government for its failure to check the spread of bigotry and intolerance in the country. “It is the second such horrific slaughter inextricably linked to the murder of Governor Taseer by his own bodyguard for the same reason,” analyst Talaat Masood said. Former Foreign Secretary Riaz Khokhar said the horrific incident hasdealt another body blow to the image of the country and further scared the enlightened and liberal segments of society.
City police chief Durrani claimed that the minister himself had asked his security escort to wait for him in his office and left the residence unguarded. However, Information Minister Dr Firdous Ashiq Awan described it as a security lapse. Bhatti’s relatives, friends and many TV anchors said he had been receiving serious threats ever since the President made him a head of a panel for review of the blasphemy law in the wake of death sentence awarded to a Christian peasant worker Aasia Bibi. His repeated requests to the Prime Minister for providing adequate security were ignored despite the fact that he was clearly marked by terrorists as their next target.
The panel was not constituted because of violent protests by religious groups and permanently shelved after the assassination of Salman Taseer by his own guard when he pleaded clemency for Aasia Bibi. Taseer’s killer, Mumtaz Qadrin, was hailed by religious groups as a hero.
Despite repeated declarations by Gilani on the floor of National Assembly that the government has no intention to review the blasphemy law, religious groups demanded dissolution of the non-existent panel to be headed by Shahbaz Bhatti. The Vatican has condemned it as an “unspeakable new act of violence of a terrible gravity.” The archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams said: “This further instance of sectarian bigotry and violence will increase anxiety worldwide about the security of Christians and other religious minorities in Pakistan.”
Worldwide human rights organisations and political leaders lamented that another voice bold enough to speak out against the madness that has gripped the country has been silenced. Dayan, who heads Pakistan chapter of Human Rights Watch (HRW) said: “Shahbaz Bhatti’s ruthless and cold-blooded murder is a grave setback for the struggle for tolerance, pluralism and respect for human rights in Pakistan.”
Assailants intercepted Bhatti’s car on a busy road in Islamabad and then gunned him down
* The minister was a prime target and had been issued threats earlier *
Case to fuel fears about extremism; rights activists, Vatican flay killing
* The minister was a prime target and had been issued threats earlier
* Case to fuel fears about extremism; rights activists, Vatican flay killing