Thousands of Pakistani Christians on Thursday (March 3, 2011) took part in protest rallies across Pakistan to show their anger against the brutal assassination of the Federal Minister for Minority Affairs, Shahbaz Bhatti, in Islamabad.
|Pakistani Christians protest the killing of Shahbaz Bhatti.
The protesting Christians, who rallied in Islamabad, Lahore, Karachi, Faisalabad, Gujranwala, Sialkot, Layyah, Khushpur and other Christian population areas,were holding banners and placards and they also chanted anti-terrorism slogans.
In Islamabad, Father Anwer Patras Gill started with a prayer for Shahbaz Bhatti and the grieving family. He announced that a formal prayer mass would be held on Friday morning 9am at the Lady Fatima Catholic Church located in F-8, Islamabad. The Christian community blocked the road towards Islamabad, burned tires and demanded immediate arrest of the culprits, they had banners stating “Anyone who speaks the truth is unsafe,” “Bhatti your blood is the beginning of a revolution.”
Addressing one of the rallies, the All Pakistan Minority Alliance (AMPA) senior member and member of the Provincial Assembly, Pervaiz Rafique, said, “Shahbaz Bhatti said he would defy Islamist militants and would go ahead to reform Pakistan’s blasphemy laws, and in so doing he gave his life for the cause. Now we will carry on his mission.”
Another APMA member, Khalid Gill, in condemning the assassination said, “The APMA will observe official mourning for 40 days. The Government has announced that the seat of the Federal Minister for Minority Affairs will be given to someone from Bhatti`s family.”
|One of the protestors gives a TV interview.
In Lahore the major a protest was organized at the Lahore Press Club, with human rights groups leading the protest. This included National Commission for Peace and Justice director, Emanuel Mani, Masiha Millat, party leader, Aslam Sahotra, Center for Human Rights Education director, Samson Salamat, and Life for All spokesperson, Kashif Mazhar.
The protesters demanded the immediate arrest of those involved in the murder of the minister and chanted slogans against the Taliban, extremist clerics, and terrorists, as well as the assassin of former Punjab governor, Salman Taseer.
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 a patriotic statesman and campaigner for interfaith harmony. The government needs to go beyond the rhetoric of minorities enjoying all the rights in the country.
“If the country becomes a killing field for individuals who exercise their freedom of conscience and expression, it will only embolden the criminals to try to take charge of Pakistan.”
Mr. Rizwan Paul from Life For All said, “This incident has spread fear among all minorities living in Pakistan. It means that no one is safe. Our ancestors did not vote for Pakistan for this day.
“Tomorrow if I say something that someone doesn’t agree with, will I also be killed? When people can kill with so much impunity in the capital, no one is safe. Our villages are being burnt and our people killed. What justice is this?
“I am afraid that worst type of ‘extremism’ is developing across the globe and so-called ‘moderate’ and ‘enlightened’ people also fall in this category. If you expect tolerance from people who have different beliefs, please learn to show tolerance towards them too.”
Gerrard Bhatti — Shahbaz Bhatti’s elder brother — said, “The FIR (First Information Report) No. 94/11 has been registered. Our whole family is devastated over the huge loss.
“Since his childhood, Bhatti was passionate to fight for the rights of the minorities; he wanted to raise the voice for the persecuted and the discriminated. He mentioned to me once about the life threats, I asked him to leave the country for a while, but he refused saying that he doesn’t fear death. He was willing to sacrifice himself for the cause.”
Rodrick Samson is a freelance journalist based in Pakistan.