Christians in Pakistan chilled by assassination
Christian schools and colleges across Pakistan shut down for three
days to protest the March 2 assassination in Islamabad of Shahbaz
Bhatti, a Roman Catholic who was minister for religious minorities.
Christians and secular groups marched in the cities of Lahore, Karachi,
Hyderabad and Faisalabad to protest the killing.
The call for
action came at an ecumenical meeting chaired by Archbishop Lawrence
Saldana, president of the Catholic Bishops Conference of Pakistan. In a
press statement, church leaders said that if Pakistan "becomes a killing
field" of people "who exercise their freedom of conscience and
expression," then "criminals trying to take charge of the country" will
Bhatti, 42, was ambushed and shot dead as he was
being driven to his office. He was a critic of Pakistan's blasphemy law,
which makes criticism of the Prophet Muhammad a capital crime in the
Last November, Bhatti initiated a clemency
petition for Asia Bibi, a Christian woman currently in prison on
blasphemy charges. "My life is under threat. I am getting threat calls
regularly," Bhatti said at the end of a telephone interview November 22.
On January 4, another high-ranking government figure, Punjab governor
Salman Taseer, was killed after he criticized the blasphemy law.
salute the courage of Shahbaz who knowingly put his life in danger by
speaking up boldly against the blasphemy law," said Archbishop Saldana.
"We decided to close all the institutions to honor his sacrifice."
Azariah, general secretary of the National Council of Churches in
Pakistan, said in a telephone interview that "words cannot describe our
feelings" at the news of Bhatti's killing. "We are stunned."
In New York, the Islamic Society of North America said it was "outraged" by the killing.
leaders, including President Barack Obama, UN Secretary-General Ban
Ki-Moon, British Prime Minister David Cameron and Pope Benedict XVI,
paid tribute to Bhatti.
Olav Fykse Tveit, general secretary of the
World Council of Churches, in a letter to the prime minister of
Pakistan called the crime "heinous and outrageous." Calling for
protection of religious minorities, Tviet said, "Extremists will stop at
nothing in their desperate attempt to force religious extremism and
violence on Pakistani society." —ENInews