By National News Desk
Islamabad: Political leaders, activists and religious figures on Tuesday voiced hope for greater tolerance as they mourned slain Pakistan minister for minorities’ affairs Shahbaz Bhatti, at a tribute organized by a Washington-based group on the 10th anniversary of his killing.
Bhatti, a member of Pakistan’s small Christian community who sought reforms to blasphemy laws that critics say are frequently tools of persecution, was shot at least 25 times as he left his mother’s house on March 2, 2011.
Islamist extremist group Tehrik-e-Taliban claimed responsibility for the killing of Bhatti, who had faced particular backlash for defending Asia Bibi, a Christian villager sentenced to death on blasphemy allegations.
Bibi, who finally succeeded in 2019 in resettling in Canada, told a virtual commemorative event that she had given up hope after hearing about Bhatti’s death — two months after the assassination of another critic of blasphemy laws, Punjab’s governor Salman Taseer.
Bhatti “helped many poor people like me who were oppressed and helpless,” Bibi said in a video message for the event, organized by the Religious Freedom Institute.
“I want to appeal to the prime minister of Pakistan, Imran Khan, that he should protect people like Shahbaz Bhatti because you need people like him to protect Christians and others.”
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau praised Bhatti for the “unwavering stance he took against injustice,” saying: “We will never forget his sacrifice and his enduring message of hope and religious freedom.”
Pakistan has pursued more blasphemy cases than any country — 184 of them between 2014 and 2018, according to the US Commission on International Religious Freedom.
Cardinal Joseph Coutts, who recently retired as the archbishop of Karachi, voiced concern that extremism has festered in Pakistani society in the decade since Bhatti’s killing.
“Ten years later, we remember you, we pray for you and we pray that what you wanted to change, we may be able to change and have a fair and just country to live in,” he said.