Pakistan’s only Christian cabinet member assassinated

March 2, 2011

By Alex Rodriguez, Los Angeles Times

Gunmen killedPakistan’s only Christian cabinet member Wednesday in a hail of bullets outside his house in Islamabad, the second assassination this year of a top Pakistani official who had opposed the country’s controversial blasphemy law.

The assassination of Shahbaz Bhatti, the country’s minority affairs minister, underscored the reach of extremism in a Muslim, nuclear-armed country founded on the principles of minority inclusion, as well as the government’s inability to protect its minorities.

Bhatti was an outspoken opponent of Pakistan’s blasphemy law, which makes it a crime to utter any derogatory remarks about, or insult in any way, the prophet Muhammad, the Koran or Islam. Critics of the law say it can be exploited as a means to settle scores against adversaries or persecute minorities.

Ali Dayan Hasan, South Asia researcher for Human Rights Watch, called Bhatti’s slaying “a grave setback for the struggle for tolerance, pluralism and respect for human rights in Pakistan.”

Bhatti was leaving for work when the midmorning attack took place. Witnesses and police said three or four gunmen in a white Suzuki car drove up and sprayed Bhatti’s black sedan with bullets. The attack lasted several minutes, and witnesses said more than 50 shots were fired.

Before escaping, the gunmen scattered pamphlets on the wet pavement that stated Bhatti was assassinated because of his opposition to the country’s blasphemy law. The pamphlets said the Pakistani Taliban and Al Qaeda were responsible for the slaying.

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