Pope Benedict: A tribute to Shabaz Bhatti

2012-01-11 Vatican Radio

“All too often, for various reasons”, the right to religious freedom “remains limited or is flouted. I cannot raise this subject without first paying tribute to the memory of the Pakistani Minister Shahbaz Bhatti, whose untiring battle for the rights of minorities ended in his tragic death”, said Pope Benedict XVI Monday in his ‘State of the World’ address to Ambassadors accredited to the Holy See.

Bhatti, a Catholic, was assassinated March 2, 2011, by unknown assailants. The murder was claimed by an Islamic fundamentalist group who cited the Federal Minister’s support for the rights of minorities and religious freedom as well as his opposition to the nation’s infamous blasphemy law. Only two months earlier another leading politician and human rights supporter, Punjab Governor Salmaan Taseer, was shot dead by his body guard for similar reasons.

“I would say that those assassinations have not stopped”, says Peter Jacob, director of the Pakistani Bishop’s Conference Justice and Peace Commission. “Yesterday [Monday – ed] a very senior lawyer of the Supreme Court was murdered in Lahore, Nasrullah Waraich. Mentioning, for instance Salmaan Taseer. Not only was he assassinated but also members of his family [his son] were kidnapped and for over four months there has been no news of his whereabouts. The government is simply silent, in this case the provincial government of Punjab”.

“People know that the crisis is deepening”, Jacob explains and this, he says has, lead to the silencing of the voice of civil society in defense of religious freedom and minority rights. “Moreover, the crisis is changing focus”, he adds, “shifting from ethnic strife to sectarian killing. There is a crisis of governance and law enforcement especially a judicial crisis also which has political underpinnings”.

“Let me welcome the speech and the mention of Shabaz Bhatti by the Holy Father”, he concludes. “Most people, especially the Christians in Pakistan, they will appreciate keeping not only the reference but the memory of this great leader alive”. Listen to Emer McCarthy’s full interview with Peter Jacob: