Tribute to Shahbaz Bhatti

 The Centre for Legal Aid, Assistance and Settlement is devastated by news of Shahbaz Bhatti's assassination today in Islamabad.  According to media reports, the Minorities Minister was on his way to a cabinet meeting when gunmen broke into his vehicle and shot him.  He was rushed to Shifa Hospital but was pronounced dead on arrival.  

Although no group has come forward to claim responsibility, there are reports that pamphlets issued by al-Qaeda and the Taliban were found at the site of the attack.

Mr Bhatti was an outspoken critic of Pakistan's blasphemy laws, which make blaspheming against the Prophet Muhammad a crime punishable by death.  

The blasphemy laws are misused by extremists to bring false charges against Christians to settle personal scores or acquire land or other property.  Christians charged with blasphemy have been murdered by extremists, even in cases where they were set free by court judges.  

CLAAS will be contacting the Pakistani High Commissioner and the UK Foreign Office to express its grave concerns for minorities in Pakistan.

CLAAS' UK Coordinator Nasir Saeed has made the following statement in response to Mr Bhatti's assassination:

"The assassination of Shahbaz Bhatti is a terrible blow to Pakistan's Christian community and other religious minorities.  He was a much valued advocate for Christians who worked tirelessly and courageously in pursuit of equality and freedom for all minorities, in spite of the clear risks to his own life.  

"He was one of the few people in Parliament who dared to speak up for Christians and now that he is gone, we have no voice.  Everyone who spoke up for Christians has been silenced by the extremists and we cannot say anything anymore.  

"At this point in time, it is not clear what avenues are left open to us.  The EU, the Pope, the Archbishop of Canterbury, the UN, have all raised their concerns and yet the government in Pakistan continues to do nothing.  It has bowed down to the will of religious groups and so long as that is the case, more innocent people are going to die.  

"Christians in Pakistan are living under constant fear for their lives and we don't know what the future holds for us.

"I appeal to the church in the UK to please pray for Christians in Pakistan, pray that they may have strength and hope, and pray for the government, that it will change the laws so that all Pakistanis can live together as equals and Christians no longer have to fear that their lives will be taken away from them for a crime they never committed." 

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