March 2nd marked the 6-year anniversary of the assassination of Shahbaz Bhatti. In November 2008 Bhatti was appointed as the Federal Minister for Minorities Affairs in Pakistan. In that role, he relentlessly advocated for the repeal of blasphemy laws and equal rights for religious minorities.
Bhatti was leaving his home in Islamabad when his car was sprayed with bullets. The attackers left fliers calling Bhatti an infidel. Despite the confession of an individual affiliated with the Taliban, no one has been brought to justice for the assassination.
The Pakistani government has yet to have another member as strong of an advocate for religious minorities as Bhatti. Pakistani Christians remain grateful for his work and celebrate his life every year on the anniversary of his assassination.
As you may be aware, on February 20th in recognition of World Day of Social Justice, Jubilee Campaign sent a petition to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson asking him to designate Pakistan a Country of Particular Concern. Religious minorities continue to be treated unequally under the law, face discrimination in society, and are often the target of attacks by Islamic radicals.
Many Pakistani Christians have made the decision to travel to Bangkok, Thailand to apply for refugee protection with the UNHCR, including the only witness to the assassination of Shahbaz Bhatti. Many members of religious minority groups including Christians, Ahmadis, and Hindus feel that the Pakistani government is unwilling and unable to provide adequate protection.
Jubilee Campaign supports an organization in Bangkok that provides housing, food and financial assistance to refugees. Please consider donating so that we may continue helping these vulnerable people.
Please continue to pray for Christians in Pakistan, and for the hearts of the government officials to soften. We pray for more adequate protection and for a strong leader within the government, such was Bhatti, to demand equality for religious minorities.
Shahbaz Bhatti's legacy six years on
March 2 marks the sixth year since Shahbaz Bhatti, the slain minister of minorities affairs, was shot dead in front of his mother’s house in Islamabad.
The organisation he founded, the All Pakistan Minorities Alliance (APMA) held memorial services across the country, the largest of which was held in his ancestral village Khushpur, Chak 451-GB.
Bishop John Arshad of the Faisalabad diocese led the prayers attended by almost a thousand people and zonal coordinators of APMA paid tribute to their slain leader, Shaheed Quaid Shahbaz Bhatti.
Born on Sept 9, 1968, in the tiny village of Khushpur, Chak 451-GB of Faisalabad, Bhatti had attended St Thomas High School and later the Government College Faisalabad where he began the Christian Liberation Front in 1985. The situation for Christians in small towns surrounding the village was marked by abject poverty and naked discrimination.
“We couldn’t even eat from the same utensils as Muslims and were denied jobs because of our faith,” Mr Gill explains.
On a mission to end this discrimination, Bhatti had taken it on himself to fight for equal rights of minorities in Pakistan and had travelled across the country to rally members of his community to fight for the cause.
Pastor Sadiq from Multan lent Bhatti the premises of St Saviours High School in 1993 where he held a corner meeting to raise the issue of three illiterate Christians from Gujranwala accused of writing defamatory remarks against Islam on a wall. He recalls Bhatti as a tireless campaigner.
“Since the Zia-era, Bhatti was almost always in trouble with the administrations and those in power because he was a fearless leader who would not shy away from criticising the army and the government in power... he truly inspired people with his speeches and words and urged them to take charge of their destiny,” Mr Sadiq says.
From organising annual workers’ conventions in Lahore and minorities’ conventions in the Convention Centre Islamabad, to leading demonstrations against oppression in front of press clubs even when he was in government, Bhatti had worked hard to mainstream minority groups into the country’s political scene.
He formed the APMA in 2002 to broaden the scope of his work to all religious minorities in Pakistan. That election year, slain PPP chairperson Benazir Bhutto authorised him to award three party tickets to people of his choice and instead of appointing himself, he nominated three other APMA members, who later became MNAs on the PPP ticket on the reserved seats for the minorities.
Bhatti had always tried to promote others instead of himself, says Mrs Najmi Saleem, who was appointed an MPA through APMA in 2008. “He inspired a generation of minority activists to fight for equal rights...and together we achieved a lot.”
In his tenure as minister for minorities affairs, Bhatti had helped secure five per cent quota for religious minorities in government jobs, four seats in the Senate and a national day to commemorate minorities in the country.
In 2009, while he was minister, eight Christians were killed in riots over accusations of desecration of the Quran in Gojra. Bhatti led the protests against the government for not doing enough to protect minorities and condemned the inaction of the police which had led to a loss of lives.
Gill laments that Bhatti’s death had left a vacuum in the leadership that would take on the cause with the same urgency and ferocity as Bhatti had.
(c) 2017 Jubilee Campaign