Pakistani Minister for Minorities Shahbaz Bhatti, who had called for changes in the country’s controversial blasphemy law, was killed in a gun attack in Islamabad on Wednesday, officials said. The anti-blasphemy law has been in the spotlight since November when a court sentenced a Christian mother of four to death, in a case that has exposed deep rifts in the troubled Muslim nation of more than 170 million people.
While liberal Pakistanis and rights groups believe the law to be dangerously discriminatory against the country’s tiny minority groups, Asia Bibi’s case has become a lightning rod for the country’s religious right. In January, the governor of the most populous state of Punjab, Salman Taseer, who had strongly opposed the law and sought presidential pardon for the 45-year-old Christian farmhand, was gunned down by one of his bodyguards angry about the governor’s stand.
Here some facts about the blasphemy law:
* The law has its roots in 19th century colonial legislation to protect places of worship, but it was during the
military dictatorship of General Mohammad Zia ul-Haq in the 1980s that it acquired teeth as part of a drive to Islamise the state.