Human Rights Voices

While the UN devotes its human rights operations to the demonization of the democratic state of Israel above all others and condemns the United States more often than the vast majority of non-democracies around the world, the voices of real victims around the world must be heard.

Pakistan, March 2, 2011

Taliban guns down Pakistan MP Shahbaz Bhatti over blasphemy

Original source

The Australian

Mr Bhatti, the country's only Christian federal cabinet minister, was gunned down as he was being driven to work through the capital Islamabad yesterday morning and died on the way to hospital.

Hours after his death, the BBC uploaded a video recorded just weeks earlier by the outspoken moderate in which he predicted his own assassination.

In the video, Mr Bhatti, 42, says al-Qa'ida and Taliban militants want him dead because of his stand against the country's blasphemy laws. "They want to impose their radical philosophy in Pakistan. I am leading this campaign against sharia law and for the abolishment of the blasphemy law and speaking for the rights of the oppressed and marginalised, persecuted Christians and other minorities," he says. "I will die to defend their rights."

Mr Bhatti had championed the cause of downtrodden religious minorities in the Islamic nation, but it was his outspoken opposition to the death sentence given to Christian woman Aasia Bibi last year for blasphemy that is believed to have sealed his fate.

His attackers reportedly left leaflets at the site saying they had acted in the name of al-Qa'ida and Tehrik-e-Taliban Punjab, a branch of Pakistan's home-grown terror network.

Tehrik-e-Taliban (Pakistan) deputy spokesman Ahsanullah Ahsan claimed responsibility for the attack, telling the BBC: "This man was a known blasphemer of the Prophet (Muhammad). We will continue to target all those who speak against the law, which punishes those who insult the prophet. Their fate will be the same."

Television footage showed more than a dozen bullet holes in the left passenger window and door of Mr Bhatti's black Toyota sedan after at least three gunmen opened fire in broad daylight in an ambush on suburban street.

President Asif Ali Zardari yesterday condemned the killing and a spokesman later described it as a "concerted campaign to slaughter every liberal, progressive and humanist voice in Pakistan".

"The time has come for the federal government and provincial governments to speak out and to take a strong stand against these murderers to save the very essence of Pakistan," he said.

The assassination drew condemnation from Christian leaders across the world. Vatican spokesman Frederico Lombardi said the killing "demonstrates just how justified are the insistent statements by the Pope regarding violence against Christians and religious freedom".

In January, Punjab governor Salman Taseer was assassinated by a bodyguard, who said his employer had offended God by lobbying for reform of the draconian laws.

In the wake of Mr Taseer's death Mr Bhatti received numerous death threats from extremist groups. A third politician who has also been threatened over her push for blasphemy reforms, former Benazir Bhutto confidante Sherry Rehman, has been under heavy security.