The Asian Human Rights Commission deplores the cold blooded murder of Minister BhattiPakistan, the Asian Human Rights Commission and the world at large has lost a great advocate in the cause of human rights in general and religious minorities in particular by the brutal assassination of Mr. Shahbaz Bhatti, the Federal Minister for Religious Minorities. Mr. Bhatti, the only Christian minister, was shot to death while traveling in his official car on March 2 in Islamabad exactly two months after the murder of Salman Taseer, the former governor of Punjab. The linking cause behind these two high profile assassinations was their support of the proposed amendments to the blasphemy laws.
From his early years, before he took up his ministerial duties Mr. Bhatti was a true human rights defender and activist who fought for the religious freedom of all persons. He was a humanitarian that believed in a hands-on approach to his work and was not afraid to be seen visiting, speaking to and supporting others who were fighting in their own way.
His assassination shows how barbaric the blasphemy laws really are in that they make no effort to maintain peace and order but rather encourage religious extremists who are fully aware that the government of Pakistan will take no real action against them. This was made evident by their lack of action against the pamphlets distributed by unknown persons calling for the assassination of anyone opposed to the blasphemy laws. The fact that they were distributed in the Minister’s neighbourhood shows a well planned and premeditated attack on him.
The Taliban elements in Pakistan made open threats, not only against Mr. Bhatti but also against any person or persons who support the proposed amendments to the blasphemy laws. These threats have been made publicly, but as is typical the government has not instructed the authorities to arrest and detain the people concerned. Rather they have chosen to continue their policy of appeasement which has now led to the death of another good man. Prior to his assassination Mr. Bhatti reported several death threats to the relevant authorities. In fact, on January 27, 2011 the Daily Jang, the largest circulated newspaper in the country reported that according to intelligence reports Shahbaz Bhatti would be the next target of the Taliban after Salman Taseer. It therefore speaks to the most unbelievable negligence of the police and the security agencies that no specific action was taken to provide additional security. Instead the police officer responsible for Mr. Bhatti’s security, Wajid Durrani, Islamabad’s police chief, has shifted the burden of responsibility on Mr. Bhatti himself by stating that the security detail was withdrawn on the Minister’s instructions. A claim which he cannot support with any documentary proof.
It has been observed that in recent high profile assassinations there has been a considerable connection with the police to the perpetrators. This was plainly evident in the assassination of Salman Taseer who was shot dead in the presence of his security detail by one of his own police guards. Similarly in the case of Benazir Bhutto the police officer responsible for her security was removed by higher officials shortly before her assassination. The response to her death by the military government, then under Musharraf, was that it was her own fault for placing herself in danger.
There is an alarming nexus between the Taliban, extremist religious forces and the police and security agencies which denies the victims their right, guaranteed by the country’s Constitution of protection. This nexus also ensures that no impartial investigations will ever see the light of day. Police reforms were halted during the reign of the military government and despite the fact that Pakistan is now under a civilian government the reforms have not yet started. This is because the government itself has no control over the military and security agencies. This lack of control and command responsibility has allowed militant and religious extremists to infiltrate their ranks.
Even parts of the media have been used to instigate support for religious intolerance and hatred towards supporters of amendments to the blasphemy laws and secular thinking. They have used their facilities to glorify the killers as in the case of Mumtaz Quadri, the assassin of Salman Taseer who was feted as a hero. Even the attitude of the higher courts shows no support for the amendments to the blasphemy laws in that they have given verdicts that the parliament should not continue with the amendments. They also turn a blind eye to the blatantly illegal use of mosque loud speakers to spread the messages of hatred and make no effort to implement the law which has been in existence since 2004.
The assassination of Mr. Shahbaz Bhatti, the Federal Minister for Religious Minorities, marks a dark day in the history of Pakistan. The AHRC has repeatedly called upon the government to take action against persons and groups calling for the death of anyone supporting the amendments to the blasphemy laws and to leave behind, once and for all, its appeasement policy towards the religious extremists. It is this very policy which results in the political expediency that allows the government to live in peace with the religious extremists and militant elements in the country.
The Asian Human Rights Commission calls upon the government of President Zardari to initiate an immediate and impartial investigation through an independent commission into the death of Mr. Shahbaz Bhatti. This must be done to bring justice to the many persons killed and harmed by religious intolerance and to reveal to the international community that it is the government, not the extremists or security agencies that is in charge.
The government must also take strenuous and immediate efforts to form a high powered commission to purge the police and security agencies of the Taliban elements and religious extremists. Reforms of the policing system are the most important need of the day.
The government must also stand firm on the amendments to the blasphemy laws before more good men and women are killed while they look on. In this respect protection must be provided to Ms. Sherry Rehman, the former Minister for Information who proposed the amendments to the blasphemy law in 2010 and who is the next person on the assassination list of the Taliban.