Members of minority groups in Pakistan lost a brave advocate, when the minister for minorities, Shahbaz Bhatti, was murdered by three gunmen on his way to work today. He foresaw his own murder, and said he was prepared to face that fate.
His assassination is the latest in a frightening violent backlash in Pakistan against people of minority faith groups and critics of the blasphemy laws.
I blogged back in November, on the case of Aasia Bibi, a Christian woman facing execution for allegedly insulting the Prophet Muhammad. Then just last month, an outspoken critic of the laws under which Aasia Bibi was sentenced, Salman Taseer, the governor of Punjab province, was killed by his own bodyguards.
It is hard to imagine the fear that must be felt by members of minority groups in Pakistan at the moment. It is also hard to imagine the courage that will be required by Bhatti’s successor.
Sam Zarifi, Amnesty’s Asia Pacific Programme Director, said today:
“It is ultimately the responsibility of the Pakistan government to protect its citizens from violence committed by extremist groups. President Zardari – and the security forces – must increase protection to all Pakistanis who have called for reform of the country’s blasphemy laws”.
This is a dark day for tolerance and coexistence in Pakistan. Vigilante justice must not be allowed to take precedence over the rule of law.
In the context of such opposition and devision, it is easy to forget that there are uniting fundamental principles that transcend global and religious differences, and the words of Mary Robinson, one of The Elders, brought this home to me today. Her quote reads:
“Part of the wisdom of The Elders is to remind the world that we actually have universal values that are accepted by every government in the world and yet they are not being implemented.”
One of those universal values must be that leaning through the window of a car and shooting an unarmed politician, reportedly with a Kalashnikov, is totally wrong and that it is the responsibility of the government to provide justice and protection.
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