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Growing religious intolerance in Pakistan spells demise of democracy

Christians shout slogans to protest against the killing of Pakistani Minister for Minorities Shahbaz Bhatti during a demonstration in Lahore, March 2, 2011. REUTERS/Mohsin Raza

(The views expressed in this column are the author’s own and do not represent those of Reuters)

Today’s murder of Pakistani Minority Affairs Minister Shahbaz Bhatti by religious extremists establishes a pattern of growing religious intolerance. It is undermining Pakistan’s struggling democracy by shutting down free speech and political expression in the name of a ruthless ideology disguised as religion.

The murderers left pamphlets at the scene of the crime, explaining that they killed Bhatti because of his opposition to controversial blasphemy laws, which are often misused against Pakistan’s religious minorities. Some Pakistani officials had sought to argue that the murder of Punjab Governor Salman Taseer at the hands of his own security guard in January was an anomaly and unreflective of broader societal trends. They were wrong.

I was in Lahore, Pakistan, two weeks ago, and it’s clear that the thin layer of liberal thinkers in Pakistan is getting thinner by the day. Academics and moderate politicians express fear about the current situation in the country and a sense of not knowing what’s coming next.

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