Pakistan PM condemns Dr Shahbaz Bhatti attack by mob

Image copyright AFP Image caption The mob killed Shahbaz Bhatti after he tried to stop them from burning a Quran

The attack on Pakistani religious figure Dr Shahbaz Bhatti by a mob should not be treated as an isolated incident, the country’s prime minister has said.

It is “a day of shame” for Pakistan and “a low point in the life of this nation”, Shahid Khaqan Abbasi said.

He said the attack was more than a “murder by mob”.

The doctor, a member of the minority Christian community, was shot dead at his home in the capital Islamabad on 16 March last year.

Abbasi visited Dr Bhatti’s family for a second time this weekend and said he was sure that they would overcome the pain of their loss.

His visit to the family and the open show of solidarity did not go down well with some, who called on him to take action to prevent such attacks happening again.

Pakistani Christians have been targeted in the past, for example when a small Christian village was set on fire in 2009.

Dr Bhatti – once the country’s human rights minister – was known for defending Christians against blasphemy law abuses.

The atrocity in Islamabad came two days after he defended a police officer who was falsely accused of blasphemy. He called for the officer to be acquitted.

Image copyright AFP Image caption Dr Bhatti was carrying out his duty as a human rights lawyer

Dr Bhatti was born in Lahore in 1966. He graduated in engineering and law and started working in law as a clerk.

It was as a lawyer that he took up the cause of persecuted minorities, including a blasphemy law specialist.

In 2010, he was appointed a federal minister for human rights, and was later made minister for minorities.

In 2013, he became the first head of an aid-dependent minority in Pakistan’s history.

He was appointed Minister for Minorities in the PML-N government of Nawaz Sharif in 2013 and resigned in 2014 over opposition accusations that he did not support Sharif.

In 2012, he had said that maintaining a blasphemy law was not the issue.

“This issue is not about whether it is necessary or not and whether one wants to keep or scrap such a law,” he told CNN.

Blasphemy is illegal in Pakistan and anyone found guilty of an alleged blasphemy can face life imprisonment or the death penalty.

At least 27 people have been murdered for alleged blasphemy, and many others have died in suicide bombings, arson attacks or clashes with police.

In the last three years, the number of blasphemy cases brought before Pakistan’s superior courts has increased by more than two-thirds.

A 2013 commission report into religious minorities in Pakistan said the convictions of blasphemers were reported to them at least 1,983 times every year, with 4,450 cases being registered at the regional level.

Dr Bhatti, who had been based in Lahore, was flown to the capital for several days for treatment in February. His family reported that he was very critical of Pakistan’s blasphemy laws.

Image copyright AFP Image caption Muhammad Shahbaz Bhatti leaves hospital after an operation

In his last TV appearance, broadcast hours before his death, he said he wanted to work against the laws, but had “no faith in Pakistan’s judicial system” and needed protection from “tyrants” in parliament.

President Mamnoon Hussain called for an inquiry into the attack and the alleged inaction of police.

Other Pakistani political figures have also criticised the attack on Dr Bhatti, who was one of eight children.

Former prime minister Nawaz Sharif said he felt “horror, anguish and anger” at the murder.

“The tragedy is so great and far-reaching that no political party, party leaders, members of parliament, the state and our nation could have any solace and relief over it,” he said.

Image copyright AFP Image caption Father James Ajumobi said he was unable to describe the anger the family felt

Pakistan’s military chief, Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa, said the attack “on a Muslim Muslim humanist” would not be tolerated.

The army chief will visit Islamabad on Tuesday to discuss the tragedy.

Father James Ajumobi, who is a friend of Dr Bhatti’s, told the BBC that Dr Bhatti had been living in fear but had kept this quiet for fear of being stigmatised.

“On 16 March, as he was at his own home, his life would have ended,” he said.

“So he was condemned to die. Even so, his children are being blamed.

“It’s a day of mourning for them too.”

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