Bhatti not the only Pakistan martyr
Blasphemy laws in Pakistan have become untouchable. Even talking about changes to these laws, which have a mandatory death penalty, has been prohibited and those who dare to do so can suffer terrible consequences, as the murders of Punjab Governor Salmaan Taseer and Minorities Minister Shahbaz Bhatti have demonstrated.
Christians have long been demanding the repeal of these laws, which are used as a tool by extremists and even some more “moderate” Muslims to settle personal grudges or seize the possessions of Christians.
The laws were introduced in 1860 to protect all religions and places of worship but, ever since amendments were introduced in 1986, they have come to protect mainly the Koran and the sacred name of the Prophet Mohammad. Those punished under the laws continue to be non-Muslims, Christians especially.
One of the worst ever attacks against the Christian community occurred in August 2009, when eight Christians were burnt alive in Gojra. The reason was no more than the rumour that a Koran had been desecrated by a Christian.
After the attack, the judicial commission headed by Lahore High Court judge, Iqbal Hameed ur Rehman, warned that the Gojra tragedy “must be taken seriously” and that the necessary steps had to be taken to prevent such attacks in the future. Nothing was done, however, and that has remained the case until today.
The killing of Shahbaz Bhatti is a tragic reminder of the suicide protest of Catholic Bishop, John Joseph. He campaigned tirelessly against the blasphemy laws and, after the murders of two Christians, Naimat Ahmer and Manzoor Masih, the bishop vowed that no other Christian would be killed because of the blasphemy laws during his lifetime. When Ayub Masih, a Christian, was sentenced to death for blasphemy in 1998, Bishop Joseph shot himself outside the court where the sentence had been passed. It was his hope that this final act would bring the world’s attention to the terrible blasphemy laws and the immense suffering they continue to cause for Pakistan’s Christians.
His death shocked the Christian community but his sacrifice has never been forgotten and, seven years after the bishop’s death, Masih was freed by the supreme court of Pakistan and taken to a safe place by CLAAS.
The struggle the bishop began against the blasphemy laws was continued by Shahbaz Bhatti, who came from the same village of Khushpur in Punjab. He was no doubt inspired by the fearless commitment of Bishop Joseph and now both have become martyrs and heroes of the Christian community.
- Nasir Saeed
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