To mark the fifth death anniversary of slain Christian minister Shahbaz Bhatti, U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) has called the Pakistani government to reform and repeal blasphemy laws.
“Shahbaz Bhatti, a close friend of USCIRF, was murdered for his tireless support of religious freedom and his campaign against Pakistan’s blasphemy law, a law that conflicts with fundamental human rights protections. It is long past time for the Pakistani government to bring to justice Bhatti’s killers, reform and then repeal the blasphemy law, and release, pardon and ensure the safety of all individuals imprisoned for blasphemy,” said USCIRF Chairman Robert P. George.
Bhatti was the first Federal Minister for Minorities Affairs from November 2008 until his assassination. The ministry was later dissolved.
Bhatti was travelling to work through a residential district, having just left his mother’s home, when his vehicle was sprayed with bullets. At the time of the attack he was alone, without any security. His driver reports having stopped the car and ducked when he saw armed men approaching rather than attempting to evade the threat. Bhatti was taken to a nearby hospital, but he was pronounced dead on arrival.
The group Tehrik-i-Taliban told the BBC that they carried out the attack, because Bhatti was a “known blasphemer.
Sections 298, 298A, B and C and 295, 295A, B and C of the Pakistani Constitution refer to blasphemy against any religion or religious figure. 295C the most brutal of these sections refers to use of derogatory remarks, spoken, written, directly or indirectly, etc. defiles the name of Muhammad punishable with death sentence.
From 1987 to 2014, 1300 people have been accused of blasphemy, mostly non-Muslims, the popular cases being of Asia Bibi and Rimsha Masih. Majority of these are false cases used to trap poor Christians or to gain personal benefits.
“The Pakistani government’s enforcement of its blasphemy law fosters a climate of impunity that emboldens religious extremist groups, their sympathizers, and others to target religious minorities and those with whom they disagree,” said Chairman George. “Given the Pakistani government’s perpetration and toleration of particularly severe violations of religious freedom, USCIRF continues to urge that Pakistan be designated a ‘country of particular concern’ (CPC) by the U.S. government.”
USCIRF since 2002 has recommended that the State Department name Pakistan as a country of particular concern (CPC) under the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998 for its “systematic, ongoing and egregious” violations of religious freedom.