Posts Tagged ‘ Minister for Minority Affairs ’

Shahbaz Bhatti, Modern Day Martyr in Pakistan

By Terry Mattingly for The Pocono Record

In the early days of Christianity, martyrs often gave their final testimonies of faith to Roman leaders before they were crucified, burned or fed to lions.

Times being what they are, Shahbaz Bhatti turned to Al-Jazeera and YouTube. The only Christian in Pakistan’s Cabinet knew it was only a matter of time before his work as minister for minority affairs got him killed. Threats by the Taliban and al-Qaida kept increasing.

“I want to share that I believe in Jesus Christ, who has given his own life for us. I know what is the meaning of the cross and I follow him on the cross,” said Bhatti, in a startlingly calm video recorded several weeks before his assassination on March 2.

“When I’m leading this campaign against the sharia laws for the abolishment of blasphemy law, and speaking for the oppressed and marginalized persecuted Christian and other minorities, these Taliban threaten me. … I’m living for my community and suffering people and I will die to defend their rights. So these threats and these warnings cannot change my opinion and principles.”

The last straw was almost certainly the Catholic statesman’s defense of Asia Bibi, a Christian mother of five who was sentenced to death last November for the crime of blasphemy after she publicly defended her faith in a village argument. The verdict — which must be upheld by a higher court — further polarized a tense nation and sparked a global firestorm.

Then again, in 2009 Bhatti received the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom’s first medallion for the promotion of religious freedom. A year later, he met with Pope Benedict XVI to discuss interfaith work and religious liberty in Pakistan. Bhatti was not hiding his convictions.

The blasphemy laws in question went into effect in 1986, during the dictatorship of Gen. Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq. They ban, among other actions, the use of “derogatory remarks, etc; in respect of the Holy Prophet. Whoever by words, either spoken or written or by visible representation, or by any imputation, innuendo or insinuation, directly or indirectly, defiles the sacred name of the Holy Prophet Mohammed (PBUH) shall be punished with death, or imprisonment for life, and shall also be liable to fine.”

These blasphemy laws have been used against hundreds of Muslim dissenters and Ahmadi sect members, whose approach to Islam is specifically attacked in the laws. In practice, conversion from Islam to another faith is considered blasphemy, as are attempts to advocate or defend minority faiths, such as Christianity or Hinduism.

Vigilantes often kill those formally or informally accused of blasphemy — making trials irrelevant.

This was the case with Bhatti’s death in a wave of machine-gun fire into his unarmored car. Pakistani officials had denied his request for an armored car, despite the constant threat of drive-by shootings.

Formalities were also irrelevant on Jan. 4, when Salmaan Taseer, the governor of Pakistan’s Punjab Province, was assassinated by one of his bodyguards. This outspoken Muslim also defended Bibi and called for reform in the use of blasphemy laws.

Adoring crowds showered Taseer’s assassin with rose petals and garlands as he arrived to face a magistrate, while moderate Muslim leaders remained silent. Pakistan’s legislators observed a moment of silence for Bhatti, since it probably would have been fatal for anyone to offer a prayer in his honor.

After all, pamphlets left by those who killed Bhatti warned that they would keep fighting “all the world’s infidels, crusaders, Jews and their operatives within the Muslim brotherhood. … This is the fate of that cursed man. And now, with the grace of Allah, the warriors of Islam will pick you out one by one and send you to hell, God willing.”

Apparently, many radicals in Pakistan have concluded — a perfect Catch-22 — that it is blasphemy to oppose the blasphemy laws.

Meanwhile, the Pakistani conference of Catholic bishops is preparing to render a judgment of its own. Later this month the bishops will review a proposal to ask the Vatican to designate Bhatti as a martyr.

“Bhatti is a man who gave his life for his crystalline faith in Jesus Christ,” Bishop Andrew Francis of Multan told a Vatican news agency. “It is up to us, the bishops, to tell his story and experience to the church in Rome, to call for official recognition of his martyrdom.”

-Terry Mattingly is director of the Journalism Center at the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities.

Christian Woman Sentenced to Death in Pakistan Not Yet Pardoned

By Reza Sayah for CNN

A Christian woman sentenced to death for blasphemy has not yet been pardoned by Pakistan’s president, representatives for the president said Wednesday, a day after a provincial governor told CNN that the president is expected to pardon the woman.

Asia Bibi, who has been jailed for nearly 15 months, was convicted in a Pakistani court earlier this month of breaking the country’s controversial blasphemy law by insulting Islam’s Prophet Mohammed, a crime punishable with death or life imprisonment, according to Pakistan’s penal code. She was sentenced to death.

Two representatives of President Asif Ali Zardari said Wednesday that no action has been taken, but the president will pardon if necessary.

“No decision has been taken,” spokesman Farhatullah Babar said. “Under the constitution, the president has to act under the advise of the prime minister. He will advise the president to take whatever action he proposes.”

On Tuesday, the governor of Punjab province said Zardari will pardon Bibi.

“What basically he’s made it clear is that she’s not going to be a victim of this law,” Gov. Salman Taseer told CNN International’s “Connect the World” program.

“I mean, he’s a liberal, modern-minded president and he’s not going to see a poor woman like this targeted and executed. … It’s just not going to happen,” Taseer said.

She has filed a petition for mercy with the high court, Taseer said.

“If the high court suspends the sentence and gives her bail then that is fine. We’ll see that, and if that doesn’t happen, then the president will pardon her,” he said.

Babar said jurists and legal experts have debated about whether the president has absolute power under the constitution to grant a pardon.

But he said Bibi is not in danger of being executed.

“Asia cannot be executed now,” Babar said. “Under the law, a death sentenced issued by a session court can not be carried out until it has been endorsed by the high court.”

Farahnaz Ispahani, a spokeswoman for the president, said Pakistan remains committed to protecting religious minorities.

“Pakistan is a nation of many faiths and religions, and all Pakistanis, no matter what their religion, are equal under the law,” Ispahani said in a written statement. “President Zardari has followed the case of Asia Bibi closely and will take appropriate action, if necessary, to issue a pardon or grant clemency to insure that Asia Bibi is neither incarcerated or harmed.”

A preliminary investigation showed Bibi was falsely accused, a government official said Monday.

“The president asked me to investigate her case, and my preliminary findings show she is innocent and the charges against her are baseless,” Pakistani Minister for Minority Affairs Shahbaz Bhatti told CNN.

Bhatti has said he will submit a final report Wednesday to Zardari’s office.

Prosecutors say Bibi, a 45-year-old field worker, insulted the Prophet Mohammed after she got into a heated argument with Muslim co-workers who refused to drink from a bucket of water she had touched.

In a brief news conference at the prison where she’s being held, Bibi said last weekend that the allegations against her are lies fabricated by a group of women who don’t like her.

“We had some differences and this was their way of taking revenge,” she said.

Bibi’s death sentence sparked outrage among human rights groups, who condemned Pakistan’s blasphemy law as a source of violence and persecution against religious minorities.

But Babar said the president’s party lacks the power in parliament to repeal Pakistan’s blasphemy laws.

“The manifesto of the Pakistan Peoples Party calls for the law to be repealed, but the party has not been able to repeal it because we lack the majority in parliament,” Babar said. “We don’t have the numbers to do it.”

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