Shahbaz Bhatti: Politician murdered in Pakistan for his Christian beliefs

When he was sworn in as Pakistan's minister for minorities in November 2008, the first time the position had been made a member of the cabinet, Shahbaz Bhatti said he was accepting the post to help the "oppressed, down-trodden and marginalised and to send a message of hope to the people living a life of disappointment, disillusionment and despair".

He went on: "Jesus is the nucleus of my life, and I want to be his true follower through my actions by sharing the love of God with poor, needy and suffering people of Pakistan."

For the three years that he served as a government minister, the first time a Christian had such a position in Pakistan, Bhatti was good to his word. In an environment in which civil society saw itself squeezed and where militants and fundamentalists extended their dark influence, the minister was an outspoken opponent of the country's controversial blasphemy laws, tightened during the rule of the military dictator Zia ul-Haq.

It is not as if he was not aware of the danger he was putting himself in. He had received so many death threats that weeks before his murder, shot dead by gunmen outside his mother's home in Islamabad, Bhatti had made a recording which he left with the BBC and Al-Jazeera in the event of his death. "I will die to defend their rights," he said on the recording. "These threats and these warnings cannot change my opinions and principles."

Born in Lahore in 1968, Bhattigrew up Khushpur, a village in thesuburbs of Faisalabad in the country's Punjab province. He was one ofsix children; his father, Jacob Bhatti, was a teacher. Though his familywas Catholic, he said it was notuntil he was a teenager that he fully embraced Christianity, deciding that he wanted to help his community, which represents less than twoper cent of the population. He never married.

While still at the University of Punjab in Lahore, where he obtained a masters in public administration, Bhatti helped found the Christian Liberation Front (CLF), an organisation that battled for the rights not just of Christians but other minorities.

The timing could barely havebeen better; a year later, Zia al-Haq tightened laws put in place duringthe years of British rule and established the death penalty for thosefound guilty of blasphemy. It was asentence that has so far never been carried out, but a number of people have been murdered after beingconvicted or else while awaiting trial. One person who had been convicted and was later taken to hospital from jail for medical treatment was killed by the policeman supposed to be guarding him.

Several years later, Bhatti was among the founders of another group fighting for the rights of minorities and promoting interfaith harmony, the All Pakistan Minorities Alliance (APMA). Among those also involved in the project was Group Captain Cecil Chaudhry, an activist and a hero from the 1965 Indo-Pak war. Bhatti was elected head of the organisation and had the role of liasing with the government.

He also joined the Pakistan's People's Party of Benazir Bhutto. Those who had any dealings with him, remembered him as friendly, humble and enthusiastic.

Bhatti never backed away fromcontroversy. In 2009 he spoke outin defence of Christians attacked inviolence that erupted in the Punjab town of Gojra and a year later hecame to the defence of Aasia Noreen, a Christian woman who was convicted of blasphemy and sentenced to death after allegedly insulting the Prophet Muhammad, a charge she has always denied.

Other than Bhatti, among the few high-profile politicians who came to the defence of the farm worker was Salmaan Taseer, the governor of Punjab. As it was, Taseer was killed, by a member of his security detail, less than two months before Bhatti was himself assassinated.



Clement Shahbaz Bhatti, politician: born Lahore, Pakistan 9 September 1968; died Islamabad 2 March 2011.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
Life and Style
tech
News
The 67P/CG comet as seen from the Philae lander
scienceThe most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
Arts and Entertainment
Ian McKellen as Gandalf in The Hobbit: The Battle Of The Five Armies
film
Arts and Entertainment
Sarah Koenig, creator of popular podcast Serial, which is to be broadcast by the BBC
tvReview: The secret to the programme's success is that it allows its audience to play detective
News
Ruby Wax has previously written about her mental health problems in her book Sane New World
people
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executives - OTE £60,000

£25000 - £60000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you passionate about Custom...

Recruitment Genius: Care Workers Required - The London Borough of Bromley

£15000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This homecare agency is based in Beckenh...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executives - OTE £50,000

£25000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you passionate about Custom...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executives - OTE £50,000

£25000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you passionate about Custom...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

The Interview movie review

You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

How podcasts became mainstream

People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

A memorable year for science – if not for mice

The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

Christmas cocktails to make you merry

Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
5 best activity trackers

Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

Paul Scholes column

It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas