Friday, March 04, 2011

Pakistani Christians Bury Assassinated Government Minister Who Supported Repeal of Anti Blasphemy Laws

Shahbaz Bhatti was laid to rest in his home village in Pakistan after being assassinated on Wednesday because he sought a repeal of the country's notorious anti-blasphemy laws.
Thousands of Pakistani mourners have attended the funeral of murdered minorities minister Shahbaz Bhatti.

Mr Bhatti, a Christian, was shot dead on Wednesday by the Taliban after he urged reform to blasphemy laws.

There were emotional scenes as several thousand Christians buried their leader in his home village near Faisalabad.

Earlier, hundreds turned out for a church service in the capital. Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani told them his colleague had been "very rare".

Wednesday's assassination in Islamabad was the second this year of a Pakistani politician who wanted to reform the controversial blasphemy laws.
The ease with which Bhatti was assassinated led to calls for the resignation of key security ministers and investigations.

The blasphemy law imposes a death sentence for anyone who insults Prophet Muhammad or the religion of Islam, but its opponents note that the law has been used to settle personal scores and persecute members of the minority faiths.

Gilani was among those paying their respects at the funeral, but President Zardari did not attend, and the ruling party has refused to reform the blasphemy law.
Bhatti and Punjab province Gov. Salman Taseer both criticized the blasphemy laws after a Christian woman was sentenced to death under them last year. On Jan. 4, Taseer was shot dead by one of his bodyguards, who said he was angry about the governor's stance on the laws.

But the ruling party abandoned Bhatti and Taseer on the subject, a sign of how scared they are of upsetting powerful Islamist groups. Gilani has repeatedly insisted the government would not change the laws.

President Asif Ali Zardari did not attend the funeral mass or the burial service in Khushpur, though he rarely makes public appearances out of fear for his life. Also notably missing were top leaders of the main opposition party, the Pakistan Muslim League-N, which is considered somewhat sympathetic to Islamists.

There are reports that Gilani offered to step down because of the assassination because someone had to take responsibility for the security lapses.

What's needed is that Pakistan's top leadership repudiate the blasphemy laws and reform the law. Instead, they're cowed by the threats of violence against those who express any views that are antithetical to the Islamic extremists.

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