BY ED WEST PAKISTAN’S leading Catholic politician has been murdered in the capital Islamabad.
Minorities minister Shahbaz Bhatti died on Wednesday morning after gunmen opened fire on his car while he was travelling to work through a residential district.
Mr Bhatti, 42, a leader of the ruling Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), had just left his home when at least two gunmen ambushed his car, police official Mohammad Iqbal said. He was rushed to the nearby Shifa hospital, but was dead on arrival.
Mr Bhatti had received numerous death threats after calling for changes to the country’s controversial blasphemy law, which carries a death sentence for anyone who insults Islam, and which criticis say has been used to persecute minority faiths. In January, Punjab Governor Salman Taseer, who had also opposed the law, was murdered by one of his bodyguards. The first Christian to hold a cabinet post in Pakistan, Mr Bhatti spoke about the threat facing him last month, during a visit to Canada to raise awareness about his country’s blasphemy law.
He said: “I have been told by pro-Taliban religious extremists that if I will continue to speak against the blasphemy law, I will be beheaded.
“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.” No group has claimed responsibility for the attack, but leaflets issued by Tehrik-iTaliban Punjab, a branch of the Taliban in Pakistan’s most populous province, were found at the ambush site, according to the private television channel Express 24/7.