For Immediate Release: March 2, 2011
Washington, DC –Shahbaz Bhatti, Pakistan’s only Christian Cabinet Minister, has been assassinated as a result of his opposition to the nation’s troubling blasphemy laws. At the murder scene, leaflets were found threatening opponents of the blasphemy law with a similar fate. His murder comes less than two months after Pakistani Governor Salmaan Taseer was assassinated on Jan. 4 for voicing similar views. Human Rights First is calling on Pakistani authorities to fully investigate both crimes and to punish those responsible for these murders. In a statement today, Human Rights First’s Pamela King Takiff noted:
“Shahbaz Bhatti knew that his opposition to Pakistan’s blasphemy laws put his life at risk, but he remained unwilling to compromise his conscience or his principles in the face of that danger. He once said, ‘I am mindful that in the struggle to protect religious freedom, the rights of minorities, and to raise the voice against the blasphemy laws, I can be assassinated.’ The United States has been a leading voice in calling for the protection of those who oppose blasphemy laws, including Mr. Bhatti. It should recommit to pressing Pakistan to investigate these assassinations and urge authorities there to call for an end to these crimes. This sad news also shows even more urgently how the Members of the UN Human Rights Council, set to debate the question of freedom of religion next week in Geneva, should oppose any initiative that legitimizes ‘combating defamation of religions’.”
Human Rights First’s recent report Blasphemy Laws Exposed: The Consequences of Criminalizing “Defamation of Religions” detailed dozens of cases in which blasphemy laws have been abused, including in Pakistan. The group plans to issue an updated version of this report later today. Among other updates, it will include additional background on the murders of Taseer and Bhatti.
Takiff, the report’s author and an expert in blasphemy laws, is available for interview. To schedule a time to speak with her, please contact Brenda Bowser Soder (email@example.com, 202-370-3323).