Grief-stricken Pakistani Christians bury slain cabinet minister

March 4, 2011
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(People gather near the casket of Pakistan's Minister for Minorities Shahbaz Bhatti after a funeral ceremony inside a church in Islamabad March 4, 2011/Faisal Mahmood)

Shouting “death for killers”, thousands of Pakistanis on Friday buried Shahbaz Bhatti, the country’s only Christian government minister who was killed by Pakistani Taliban for challenging a law that stipulates death for insulting Islam. His assassination on Wednesday was the latest sign violent religious conservatism is becoming more mainstream in Pakistan, a trend which could further destabilise the nuclear-armed U.S. ally.

Bhatti, a Catholic, was the second senior official to be assassinated this year for opposing the blasphemy law. Provincial governor Salman Taseer was shot dead in January by one of his bodyguards.

“The message of Shahbaz Bhatti is to purge Pakistan of killers and hatred,” Reverend Father Emmanuel Pervez told thousands of men and women gathered in Bhatti’s village in central Pakistan for mass prayers. “We will not accept oppression … Bhatti’s message is that we should not let Pakistan be defamed.”

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(Christians shout slogans as they carry the casket of Pakistan's Minister for Minorities Shahbaz Bhatti for burial at his native village Khushpur, March 4, 2011/Mian Khursheed)

In a sign of mourning, black flags fluttered atop houses in Khushpur, Bhatti’s mainly Christian home village, 290 km (180 miles) south of Islamabad. Around 5,000 men, women and children thronged the village cemetery for the burial.

“These terrorists must be hanged publicly to stop them from committing such brutal crimes,” Hina Gill, a member of the Christian Minority Alliance said. “These terrorists are wearing the mask of religion to defame religion.”

“Bhatti, your blood will bring revolution,” some mourners shouted, raising their hands in the air as his body was taken to the burial site in an ambulance.

Not only Christians mourned Bhatti. “Shahbaz Bhatti has tried hard to promote interfaith harmony but those who want to destabilise Pakistan have killed him,” said Badruddin Chaudhry, a Muslim attending the funeral. Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani attended a church service for Bhatti in the capital Islamabad on Friday. “All the minorities have lost a great leader,” Gilani said in the church. “I assure you, we will try our utmost to bring the culprits to justice.”


(Mourners carry the casket of Pakistan's Minister for Minorities Shahbaz Bhatti for burial after prayer at his native village Khushpur, March 4, 2011/Mian Khursheed )

Read the full story by Asim Tanveer here: Grief-stricken Pakistani Christians bury slain minister.

For recent videos of Bhatti, click here for his chilling statement taped in expectation of his own assassination, and a recent France24 interview.

Also check out some coverage from Pakistani newspapers here:

Strangely mute: NA fails to formally condemn murderExpress Tribune

Martyr Shahbaz Bhatti laid to rest in his native village KhushpurPakistan Christian Post

Terrorists silence another voice of interfaith harmonyDawn

The death of hope?Dawn

Price of silenceThe News

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