Pakistan’s Christians fear for safety after Shahbaz Bhatti’s assassination
The minority Christian community took to the streets to protest after Mr Bhatti, the country’s only Christian minister, was murdered by gunmen outside his parents’ home in the capital Islamabad.
‘Rashid’, a Christian campaigner, whose name has been changed for security reasons, told Release International he was “heartbroken” by news of his close friend’s death.
He demanded justice on behalf of Mr Bhatti and Pakistani Christians, who are even more fearful for their safety.
Rashid fears that if the government is unable to protect its own ministers then ordinary Christians are even more at risk.
“Shahbaz was a government servant and it’s the responsibility of government to keep him safe,” he said.
“When a minister is not secure, what is the position of Christians?
“We are like the sheep – extremists can come and slaughter us. We have no cause, no weight.”
He said the government was not taking its responsibility to protect Christians seriously enough.
“You see some policemen outside churches on Sunday, but they are not enough. We need justice. I don’t believe the government will give us justice for this murder,” he said.
“Christians are insecure and scared. Some groups are showing their anger. But what can they do? They can raise their slogans and protest but they need justice.”
Mr Bhatti was an outspoken critic of Pakistan’s blasphemy laws, which impose the death sentence on insulting Islam.
As Minorities Minister and a Christian, he had made repeated calls for the laws to be reformed to improve the conditions for minorities and particularly Christians, who are severely persecuted in Pakistan.
Mr Bhatti’s murder has shocked the international community. The Diocese of Wakefield is to hold a memorial service to remember his life and work on Friday at St Cuthbert’s, Birkby, in Huddersfield, while another service of remembrance is expected to be held in London later in the month.
Candles are also being lit in Huddersfield for the slain minister.
His death highlights the risks faced on an almost daily basis by the country’s Christians, who make up only three per cent of the population.
Two months ago, the Governor of Punjab, Salmaan Taseer was murdered by his bodyguard because of his support for reform of the blasphemy laws.
Yaqub Masih, President of UK Pakistan Christian Concern offered his prayers for Mr Bhatti and his family.
He said: “It is a very black day for the freedom of minorities in Pakistan when a Christian is martyred for standing up for human rights and freedom of speech.
“We pray for Mr Bhatti and his family and supporters at this difficult time.”