The Unfinished Mission of Shahbaz Bhatti | news from paradise

Shahbaz Bhatti was assassinated in 2011. He was a tireless campaigner against Pakistan’s blasphemy laws, which are often used to target Christians and other religious minorities.Wikimedia

On March 2, the Christian community in Pakistan and around the world celebrated the 11th anniversary of the murder of Shahbaz Bhatti.

The former minorities minister was cruelly shot in Islamabad simply for demanding changes to Pakistan’s blasphemy laws – the root cause of the suffering of the country’s Christians and other religious minorities.

But after 11 years, the laws still exist and continue to cost innocent lives.

Recently, a violent mob brutally killed a middle-aged man, Mushtaq Ahmed, after accusing him of burning pages from the Quran. The mob tied him to a tree and stoned him to death in the presence of police in Tulumba, Khanewal district.

In December, a Sri Lankan man was tortured, killed and then set on fire after being accused of blasphemy for tearing down posters bearing words from the Koran.

Last year, at least six Christian nurses and several other Christians and Muslims at a hospital in Lahore were charged with blasphemy. Muslim nurses and other hospital staff took over a local church, desecrated it and even demanded that it be turned into a mosque.

Yet no one has been held accountable for these heinous crimes and all the while the blasphemy law continues to hang like a sword over the heads of Christians.

It’s a sword that can fall at any time and when it does the consequences are devastating, with victims sometimes having to spend up to 10 years trying to prove their innocence. In Pakistan’s exhausting court system, cases drag on year after year, with judges avoiding cases for fear of extremists. Meanwhile, the poor victim is locked up in prison for years. Even if the courts eventually declare someone innocent, they risk being killed either in prison or after their release.

Unfortunately, the climate in Pakistan is such that the perpetrators not only proudly admit to killing the supposed ‘blasphemer’, but even claim to have fulfilled their religious duty under Islam.

These people are not only glorified for their misdeeds but elevated to the status of Ghazi (a Muslim who fought successfully against non-Muslims).

For decades, blasphemy laws have been used as a tool by extremists, and even some members of the wider Muslim community, to settle personal grudges or seize Christian property, such as property or businesses. .

In September 2013, the Council for Islamic Ideology (CII) said that falsely accusing someone of blasphemy was “totally un-Islamic in nature and also amounts to blasphemy”. At the time, CII member Allama Tahir Mehmood Ashrafi said the declaration would ensure that “no one dares to use religion to settle personal scores” and “will also silence critics of blasphemy laws”.

But since then people have continued to use the blasphemy laws for personal gain and neither the CII nor the Pakistani government have been able to stop this. On the contrary, successive Pakistani governments have bowed to religious extremists and simply found excuses for their inaction.

Such an attitude of the authorities not only encourages the authors to take justice into their own hands; it reinforces the belief of extremists that they are doing what is right and that they are true Muslims.

As such, the law continues to ruin the lives of innocent people. All minorities are affected, but Christians continue to be the main targets, with some extrajudicially killed, churches attacked and several villages and towns burnt down.

Mass lynchings and violence associated with alleged blasphemy are feared to escalate. Just weeks ago, a police station and police vehicles in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province were set on fire after officers refused to hand over a person accused of blasphemy to the crowd.

Religious minorities and especially Christians live in constant fear for their lives. Bhatti was well aware of this and wanted to create a Pakistan where everyone could live without fear, but his killer did not let that happen.

The killing of Bhatti – along with former Punjab governor Salman Taseer, who was murdered after defending Christian mother Asia Bibi – has terrified profanity critics into a long silence. But recent brutal murders have forced people to once again speak out against the tyranny of blasphemy laws.

Extremists may have silenced Bhatti and Taseer, but many more will continue to speak out. Campaigns for reform will continue to be led by brave Christians and human rights activists, even knowing that they may have to pay with their lives.

Bhatti’s spirit lives on, not only within the Pakistani Christian community, but around the world. We were reminded of this by the many Pakistanis who lit a candle in his memory on the 11th anniversary of his death. They are more determined than ever to fulfill Bhatti’s unfinished mission of equal rights for Christians and to end the discriminatory policies and laws that have caused so much suffering for Christians and religious minorities in Pakistan.