Christian Pakistani MP murdered by own bodyguard

Pakistani MP Handery Masih died after being shot by his bodyguard on Saturday.

Pakistani MP Handery Masih was shot and killed by his own bodyguard in an incident outside his home on Saturday.

MP for Balochistan, Mr Masih was a committed Christian and well known as an advocate for the rights of religious minorities in Pakistan, who are persecuted for their faith.

The blasphemy laws in particular have been blamed for much of the persecution against Christians in Pakistan and for increasing inter-religious tensions across the country.

The laws stipulate: "Whoever by words, either spoken or written, or by visible representation or by any imputation, innuendo, or insinuation, directly or indirectly, defiles the sacred name of the Holy Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) shall be punished with death, or imprisonment for life, and shall also be liable to fine".

Minority faith groups are living in constant fear of punishment, as human rights groups say that the laws are frequently misused by extremists. False charges are often brought against Christians in order to settle personal scores or to seize property or businesses.

One of Pakistan's most high-profile Christian blasphemy cases is that of Asia Bibi, a mother-of-five who was sentence to death in November 2010. She remains in prison, pending the outcome of her appeal.

Pakistan was recently named the sixth most violent place for Christians to live by a leading persecution charity, according to Open Doors' World Watch List. The organisation noted that "there is a high degree of impunity regarding acts of violence against Christians" in Pakistan, and forced conversions are not unusual.

In response to Mr Masih's death, and the injury of his nephew during the attack, the chairman of the British Pakistani Christian Association, Wilson Chowdhry, has said: "I am saddened, but not surprised, to hear that another Christian politician has been gunned down in Pakistan.

"We may not know the precise reason, but this is doubtless yet another manifestation of the extreme anti-Christian bigotry that pervades Pakistani society and culture as a whole, a state of extreme moral bankruptcy."

He concludes: "I join with Christian politicians in Pakistan to hold the government to account for allowing such a situation to develop, and not doing nearly enough to uphold basic principles of human rights when it comes to Christians and other minorities in Pakistan."