Just last week minority affairs minister Shahbaz Bhatti on a trip to Washington DC said that he was speaking with representatives of major political parties in order to seek a revision of the blasphemy laws by the end of the year. He said “These principles are the nucleus of my life. I will live for them and I will die for them.”
Bhatti’s remarks were criticized by Nizar Bhatti President of Pakistan Christian Congress. Nizar Bhatti said that Shahbaz Bhatti has often promised to work to repeal the blasphemy laws in front of foreign Christian and human rights organizations but has taken no steps towards this step and has changed his stance from supporting the repeal of the laws to simply revising them.
Shahbaz Bhatti was notable last August in his many statements criticizing the Gojra riots in which 7 Christians were burned alive and his promises that the killers would be brought to justice. He was reported to have received threats to his life for his strong statements against the killings. However the sad fact is that even though the protest of the Christian community of Gojra was only brought to an end by the the Punjab government registering an FIR against the perpetrators (including the DPO and DCO of Gojra), nothing was done to bring the killers to justice. In fact, horrifyingly, as of January 2010, the DCO and DPO have not only been reinstated but have actually been promoted although the Interior Minister claims to have no knowledge of who allowed the officials to be promoted. And so despite the unusual amount of attention given to the Gojra killings by the press, ultimately nothing was done to bring the killers to justice.
In the meantime, Imran Masih, a young Christian shopkeeper has been sentenced to life imprisonment by a Faisalabad court for allegedly (what else?) burning a copy of the Quran.
Last January, Hector Aleem, a Christian human rights activist was arrested in a blasphemy case in Rawalpindi under suspcious circumstances following local opposition to his campaign against the destruction of a church. According to his daughter he is still in prison, despite being granted bail by the Chief Justice in June.
In September 2009, a young Christian man Fanish (Robert) Masih was arrested and taken to Sialkot jail for allegedly desecrating the Quran and having relations with a Muslim girl. The next day he was found dead in Sialkot jail, allegedly from suicide, but his body had torture marks and he had rope burns on his neck. A case was lodged against the police officials at the jail, but the matter was not pursued any further, despite Shahbaz Bhatti’s statement that he had taken “serious notice” of the incident.
This January, the house of Walayat Masih in Gujranwala was burned down by three Muslim brothers and Masih and his family have been forced to flee to Rawalpindi where they are facing threats and living in hiding. Earlier this year his eldest son was murdered by influential members of his village. He has been unable to get any cooperation from the DCO and the DPO and apart from PML-Q MNA Akram Gill no one in the federal and provincial government has taken notice of this matter.
Just yesterday Chaudhry Muhammad Naeem, former president of the Lahore Bar Association was granted bail in the murder case of Shazia Masih – a 12 year old maid in his employment. Naeem had previously tried to pay off Shazia’s family. Her family rejected his offer and were told by the doctor on duty at Jinnah hospital that their daughter had been raped. However now a medical board of 3 doctors constituted by CM Punjab Shahbaz Sharif has declared that Shazia was not raped after all.
So in light of these events one can only agree with Nizar Bhatti that the Federal Minister of Minority Affairs needs to do more to bridge the gap between what he promises to foreign organizations and what the reality is in Pakistan.