Pakistan's only Christian minister Shahbaz Bhatti was shot dead today after pushing for the reform of harsh blasphemy laws that impose the death penalty for insulting Islam.
Shahbaz BhattiPhoto: AFP/GETTY IMAGES
7:06AM GMT 02 Mar 2011
The assisination comes just a fortnight after Mr Bhatti, Minister for Minorities, said he was prepared to die for his beliefs following a series of death threats.
He claimed his faith gave him strength during a recent visit to Canada.
The member of Muslim-majority Pakistan's Christian community, was on his way to work in the Pakistani capital, Islamabad, when unknown gunmen riddled his car with bullets, police officer Mohmmad Iqbal said.
He was taken to Shifa Hospital with his driver who was also badly wounded.
No group immediately claimed responsibility for the attack, but private Pakistani TV channels showed pamphlets at the scene of the killing that were attributed to the Pakistani Taliban warning of the same fate for anyone opposing the blasphemy laws.
Earlier this year, Punjab province Gov. Salman Taseer was killed by a bodyguard who said he was angry that the politician opposed the blasphemy laws.
The Taseer killing terrified those in Pakistan who are secular-minded or liberal, but it also drew wide praise among many ordinary Pakistani. Analysts said the reaction was a sign of the growing radicalization of the Muslim public.
Mr Bhatti had been campaigning to reform the Pakistan's notoriously strict blasphemy laws, which most recently were used against Asia Bibi, the Christian woman sentenced to death for “insulting” Islam.
Mrs Bibi says the allegation was invented by a neighbour to settle a score, a common complaint about the blasphemy law, and she is now in hiding. Although no one has ever been executed under Pakistan’s blasphemy laws, as many as 10 people are thought to have been murdered while on trial.
In February Mr Bhatti said death threats would not stop him speaking out against the country’s blasphemy law.
He said during a trip to Canada: “I have been told by pro-Taliban religious extremists that if I will continue to speak against the blasphemy law, I will be beheaded.” But he said his faith gave him strength.
“As a Christian, I believe Jesus is my strength. He has given me a power and wisdom and motivation to serve suffering humanity. I follow the principles of my conscience, and I am ready to die and sacrifice my life for the principles I believe,” he said.