ISLAMABAD: The brutal murder of Minister for Minority Affairs Shahbaz Bhatti saw relentless criticism from world capitals. Vatican called the Pakistani Christians as subjects of hate inside Pakistan and demanded persecution of Christians to end.
Upon hearing of the brutal murder of a noted Pakistani, Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi in a statement said, “This murder is condemned as ‘unspeakable’. The murder Wednesday of a Catholic Pakistani government minister opposed to an Islamic blasphemy law, and we call for an end to the persecution of Christians.”
Lombardi said that this attack was a “new act of violence of a terrible gravity. To our prayers for the victim, our condemnation of the act of unspeakable violence, our
closeness to the Pakistani Christians subject to hate, we add an appeal concerning the dramatic urgency of the defence of religious freedom and of Christians who are suffering from violence and persecution.”
In comments to reporters, Lombardi also stressed the need to defend religious freedom and end persecution of Christians in Pakistan. Lombardi stressed that Bhatti had been the first Catholic to occupy the post of religious minorities minister.
“Bhatti met Pope Benedict XVI in September and gave testimony of his efforts to have religious communities in his country live together peacefully,” the spokesman added. The United States also condemned in the strongest possible terms the murder of Shahbaz Bhatti. US Ambassador Cameron Munter said that “Minister Bhatti was a Pakistani patriot and a voice for understanding who committed his life to public service and fulfilling the Quaid-i-Azam’s vision for his nation as a beacon of democratic tolerance. His death is a loss for all who believe in the values for which he gave his last full measure of devotion”.
He said that the US stands with the people and government of Pakistan in their fight against the forces of intolerance and violent extremism that threaten us all.
Meanwhile, in Brussels, Catherine Ashton, High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy and Vice President of the Commission European Union, in a statement on behalf of the Union, said: “I strongly condemn the murder of a member of the government who was well known for his defence of the principles of equality and human rights which are enshrined in the Constitution of Pakistan. I am also deeply concerned about the climate of intolerance and violence linked to the debate on the controversial blasphemy laws. I urge the Pakistani authorities to do their utmost to ensure the protection of those in the government and civil society who have spoken out on these matters, and to bring to justice those responsible for this crime.” Meanwhile, talking to the press in Berlin, the German Federal Foreign Minister, Dr Guido Westerwelle, said, “Shahbaz Bhatti, the only Christian in the Pakistani government, was passionately committed to the rights of minorities in Pakistan, showing great personal courage. His death has shocked us. It is a real loss for Pakistan. Now, everything must be done to hold the culprits to account and to guarantee the protection of all religious groups, including Christians, in Pakistan.”
Alain Juppe, Senior French Minister for Foreign and European Affairs, said: “The French government is horrified, and expresses its indignation over the assassination of the Pakistani Minister for Minorities, Shahbaz Bhatti.
“France condemns in the strongest possible terms this heinous crime. Everything must be done to identify and punish the culprits. This assassination is the second one targeting a senior political figure in the last two months. It took place in a worrying context of attacks on freedom of speech and religious freedom in Pakistan.
“Nobody can accept that a human being be assassinated for what he his or what he believes in. “France salutes the memory of this political figure who very bravely defended for many years the rights of the minorities and promoted human rights as a whole.”
Juppe added that France reaffirms its support to the Pakistani authorities. She encourages them not to yield to extremism and to pursue their fight against terrorism and all forms of violence undermining civil liberties.
Human Rights Watch in its reaction stated, “Shahbaz Bhatti’s ruthless and cold-blooded murder is a grave setback for the struggle for tolerance, pluralism and respect for human rights in Pakistan. In articulating the position that the blasphemy law, as currently framed, engenders abuse and required review, Bhatti was only doing his job and reiterating the stated position of the ruling Pakistan People’s Party until it reneged on the same on December 30, 2010. Bhatti’s murder is the bitter fruit of appeasement of extremist and militant groups both prior to and after the killing of Punjab Governor Salmaan Taseer on January 4. An urgent and meaningful policy shift on the appeasement of extremists that is supported by the military, the judiciary and the political class needs to replace the political cowardice and institutional myopia that encourages such continued appeasement despite its unrelenting bloody consequences.”
The HRW called upon the Pakistani government to apprehend and hold Bhatti’s killers to account, charge under the law those who incite hatred and violence and ensure protection for those, such as former Information Minister Sherry Rehman, who continued to be publicly threatened by extremist actors.
The archbishop of Canterbury expressed “shock and sorrow” at the murder of a Catholic Pakistani government minister, saying it increased fears about the security of Christians there. Archbishop Rowan Williams, the leader of the worldwide Anglican Church, urged Pakistan to protect minorities.
“It is with the greatest shock and sorrow that we have heard of the assassination of Mr Shahbaz Bhatti, minister for religious minorities in Pakistan,” he said in a joint statement with Archbishop of York John Sentamu.
“This further instance of sectarian bigotry and violence will increase anxiety worldwide about the security of Christians and other religious minorities in Pakistan, and we urge that the Government of Pakistan will do all in its power to bring to justice those guilty of such crimes and to give adequate protection to minorities.”
British Prime Minister David Cameron said the murder of the Catholic minister was “absolutely brutal and unacceptable”. “It was absolutely shocking news,” Cameron told the House of Commons after Shahbaz Bhatti became the second high-profile opponent of the blasphemy law to be killed in Islamabad.
Cameron said the minister’s murder was “absolutely brutal and unacceptable, and it shows what a huge problem we have in our world with intolerance”. “I will send not only our condolences but our clearest possible message to the government and people of Pakistan that this is simply unacceptable,” he added.
PPI adds: Italy’s Foreign Minister Franco Frattini deplored the “intolerable” murder of the Pakistan’s minorities minister. “On behalf of the Italian government I personally condemn in the strongest terms the barbarous attack which cost the life of Pakistan’s Minorities Minister Bhatti,” Frattini said in a statement.
“This is an intolerable act of violence against a person who distinguished himself by his vision and his commitment to building a society based on dialogue and tolerance towards all various minorities and religions, founded on social justice and democracy.”
Italy, its European Union and other international partners will do their utmost to help Pakistan uphold rights of individuals and minorities, Frattini vowed.
AFP adds from WASHINGTON: US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton expressed outrage over the slaying of Catholic Pakistani government minister Shahbaz Bhatti, also calling it an attack on the values of tolerance. “I was shocked and outraged by the assassination,” Clinton told a Senate committee.
“I think this was an attack not only on one man but on the values of tolerance and respect for people of all faiths and backgrounds that had been championed by Mohammed Ali Jinnah, the founder of Pakistan,” she said.
The chief US diplomat called Bhatti, whom she met recently, a “courageous man” who knew about the threats against him but stayed on as the minority affairs minister even after a government reshuffle. “He was a patriot. He was a man of great conviction. He cared deeply for Pakistan, and he had dedicated his life to helping the least among us,” Clinton told the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations.
The minority affairs minister conceded to AFP at the time that he was “the highest target right now” but vowing to continue his work and trusting his life to God. More generally, Clinton said it is a matter of “deep distress” to her and the US government that religious and other minorities suffered from intolerance not only in Pakistan but in Iraq and Egypt.
“It runs against all of our values. And we are going to be doing all we can to support the freedom of religion, the freedom of conscience and to work with governments everywhere so that they uphold universal values,” she said.
India also joined the international community in condemning the assassination of Shahbaz Bhatti, calling it a “dastardly crime”. “We convey our heartfelt condolences to the bereaved family, the people and the Government of Pakistan on the tragic assassination of Shahbaz Bhatti,” the Indian foreign ministry said in a statement. “We condemn this dastardly crime.” “In this difficult hour, our prayers and thoughts are with the bereaved family and the people of Pakistan,” the statement added.