News / Asia

Pakistanis, World Leaders Protest Minister's Assassination

Wasif Ali Khan, a friend of Pakistan's government minister for religious minorities Shahbaz Bhatti looks at the bullet-riddled window of car while he mourns over his death, Islamabad, Pakistan, March 2, 2011.
Wasif Ali Khan, a friend of Pakistan's government minister for religious minorities Shahbaz Bhatti looks at the bullet-riddled window of car while he mourns over his death, Islamabad, Pakistan, March 2, 2011.

Grief-stricken Pakistanis are protesting the assassination of the country's minister for minorities who was a vocal opponent of Pakistan's blasphemy law.

Shahbaz Bhatti was the only Christian in the federal Cabinet. Assassins gunned him down Wednesday as he traveled in a car in Islamabad.

Taliban leaflets were found on the scene, warning against changes to the blasphemy law.

Bhatti told VOA last month about threats from the Taliban and al-Qaida. But he said he would not let them deter him from standing up for the rights of Christians and other minorities.

Pakistan's blasphemy law carries the death penalty for insulting Islam. But critics say it is used to stifle free speech and settle grudges and business disputes,

Bhatti supporters, including members of the country's Christian minority, are demanding the government to bring the killers to justice. Interior Minister Rehman Malik ordered increased security for federal ministers.

U.S. President Barack Obama said he is deeply saddened and said Bhatti sacrificed his life for the universal value to practice religion as one wishes.

The Vatican said the attack was a “terribly grave act of violence,” and U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon condemned the killing and urged the Pakistani government to protect minority rights.

In January, the governor of Punjab province, Salman Taseer, was assassinated by his own bodyguard.  Bhatti praised the slain governor for speaking out against the misuse of the Islamic law of blasphemy, and told VOA the killing was a barbaric act.

Bhatti also spoke out in defense of a Christian mother of five who was sentenced to death last year for blaspheming Islam. Pakistan's Christians make up less than 5 percent of the country's 175 million people and have long complained of discrimination.

Some information for this report was provided by AP, AFP and Reuters.

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