WASHINGTON, D.C. – The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) on March 2 will mark the fifth anniversary of the assassination of Shahbaz Bhatti, Pakistan’s Federal Minister of Minorities Affairs, who was slain by Tehrik-i-Taliban, the Pakistani Taliban. USCIRF renews its call for the Pakistani government to bring to justice his killers and end the culture of violence and impunity that the blasphemy law fuels.
“Shahbaz Bhatti, a close friend of USCIRF, was murdered for his tireless support of religious freedom and his campaign against Pakistan’s blasphemy law, a law that conflicts with fundamental human rights protections. It is long past time for the Pakistani government to bring to justice Bhatti’s killers, reform and then repeal the blasphemy law, and release, pardon and ensure the safety of all individuals imprisoned for blasphemy,”
said USCIRF Chairman Robert P. George.
The only Christian in Pakistan’s government, Bhatti was assassinated on March 2, 2011 outside his mother’s home in Islamabad. Bhatti’s murder followed the assassination of Salman Taseer, the Muslim governor of Punjab province, who also was killed for his opposition to Pakistan’s blasphemy law. Both men had championed Aasia Bibi, a Christian woman who was sentenced to death for blasphemy and today languishes in prison. Taseer’s bodyguard, who killed him while invoking the Qur’an, was hung on February 29, after having been convicted by an anti-terrorism court and sentenced to death. It is shocking to note that many in Pakistan view the bodyguard as a hero. Bhatti’s killers remain at large.
Pakistan’s blasphemy law often is used against members of religious minority communities, including Ahmadis, Christians, and Hindus, as well as Muslims who hold views that extremists and others deem “un-Islamic” or offensive. Pakistan detains the greatest number of individuals for blasphemy of any country in the world; USCIRF knows of at least 38 prisoners of conscience who currently are being detained.
“The Pakistani government’s enforcement of its blasphemy law fosters a climate of impunity that emboldens religious extremist groups, their sympathizers, and others to target religious minorities and those with whom they disagree,” said Chairman George. “Given the Pakistani government’s perpetration and toleration of particularly severe violations of religious freedom, USCIRF continues to urge that Pakistan be designated a ‘country of particular concern’ (CPC) by the U.S. government.”
USCIRF since 2002 has recommended that the State Department name Pakistan as a CPC under the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998 for its “systematic, ongoing and egregious” violations of religious freedom. The State Department has not designated Pakistan a CPC. For more information on religious freedom conditions in Pakistan and recommendations for U.S. policy, please see USCIRF’s 2015 Annual Report chapter on Pakistan and a press release on a March 2015 trip to Pakistan.