South Asians for Human Rights

Promoting Democracy, Upholding Human Rights

The South Asians for Human Rights (SAHR) condemns the assassination of the Federal Minister for Minorities, Shahbaz Bhatti, expressing grief, and alarm at his murder and calling it a manifestation of growing intolerance in society.

Lahore, March 03, 2011: SAHR has condemned the assassination of the Pakistan Federal Minister for Minorities, Shahbaz Bhatti, expressing grief, and alarm at his murder and calling it a manifestation of growing intolerance in society. His murder marks the latest attack on a high-profile Pakistani figure, following the assassination of Punjab Governor Salman Taseer, who had urged reforms in the blasphemy laws that provides for the death penalty. The Federal Minister was assassinated by unknown gunmen in broad daylight in Islamabad while he was on his way to work. He died before his body could be taken to a hospital nearby. Reports are now coming in of groups claiming responsibility and warning others who talk about reforms to blasphemy laws.

Shahbaz Bhatti joined the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) in 2002 and became an elected Member of the National Assembly on a reserved seat for minorities. He was made the Federal Minister for Minorities in 2008. He was one of the founding members and the Chairman of All Pakistan Minorities Alliance (APMA) formed in 1985. He was also the founder and President of the Christian Liberation Front, and the Executive Director of the Pakistan Council for Human Rights. He received an International Religious Freedom Award for rendering services to the community, becoming the first Pakistani ever to receive this award. As a Federal Minister, he made serious efforts to ensure the safety and rights of religious minorities. While Mr Shahbaz Bhatti had been active as a human rights defender before he joined the federal cabinet, he had confined himself to performing his official duties. Despite threat to his life, he demonstrated great courage to stand for human rights principles.

SAHR is greatly concerned by the increase in acts of terrorism by religious extremists in Pakistan. The level of impunity enjoyed by these elements for targeting human rights defenders, legislators, intellectuals and journalists is even a greater cause for concern. SAHR urges the Pakistani authorities to take immediate measures for protecting the lives of Pakistani citizens and ensuring their safety in conducting any activity for the protection of human rights or exercise of their freedoms. It is imperative that the government, the political opposition and the media join hands with the civil society to curb elements that incite violence publicly and are carrying out a campaign of terror in the country. SAHR regrets that the current environment in Pakistan is least conducive to the protection of rights and fundamental freedoms. Non-Muslims have become even more vulnerable to violence, persecution, discrimination and marginalization.

SAHR stands with Pakistan at this difficult time and supports all efforts for bringing peace, harmony and a sense of well being to people of Pakistan and South Asians throughout the region.

Hina Jilani