Latest killing fuels fears of Pakistan's Christians

Pakistan's president has said the country must not buckle to terrorism in the aftermath of the assassination of the Christian minister for minorities, Shahbaz Bhatti, who spoke out against controversial blasphemy laws.

As Christian communities across Pakistan held demonstrations to protest Wednesday’s killing, President Asif Ali Zardari said the country had to fight a mindset of intolerance which had allowed the killing to happen.

"We will not be intimidated nor will we retreat," he said yesterday. "Such acts will not deter the government from eliminating extremism and terrorism. Shahbaz fell victim to the negative mindset and intolerance that also took the lives of... [former prime minister} Benazir Bhutto and Punjab Governor Salman Taseer."

But such words will likely bring little solace to Pakistan's minority communities and its liberals, horrified that two high profile politicians who had vigorously campaigned for tolerance were so coldly murdered within the space of two months. Nor will they take comfort from the government's decision to drop its plans to reform the blasphemy laws, which Mr Taseer – who was assassinated in Islamabad in January - and Mr Bhatti had condemned so boldly.

As a wave of international condemnation poured into Pakistan, Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani announced three days of official mourning and said that flags would fly at half-mast today, when Mr Bhatti is expected to be buried in his home village near Lahore.

Members of the country's Christian community -- both angered and scared by the minister's brazen murder -- held protests in a swathe of towns and villages. In Sialkot, demonstrators filled the city centre, waving banners and flags. In Multan in central Punjab, around 150 Christians blocked a road and burned tyres. There were similar protests in Lahore and the threat that more would follow if the government did not take steps to protect minorities and bring Mr Bhatti's killers to justice.

"Everybody is sad and downhearted, but they are also feeling a little aggressive too. All over Pakistan, especially in the Punjab, people have been coming out and blocking roads," said Sohail Johnson, a Christian activist from Lahore. "They feel insecure here in Pakistan. If a federal minister in a federal area can be assassinated, then what is the situation for ordinary people?"

In Islamabad, police said they were questioning up to 20 people in connection with the killing and issued an artist's sketch of one of the gunmen who stopped Mr Bhatti in his car as his approached his mother's house in the city and sprayed him with bullets. Pamphlets apparently produced by al-Qa'ida and the Tehrik-i-Taliban were said to have been found at the scene. One key issue for investigators is why the minister, who had talked of the threat to his life, was travelling without his security detail.

The recent controversy over the blasphemy laws, tightened under the rule of military dictator Zia ul-Haq, was triggered last November when a court sentenced to death a Christian woman who had been convicted of insulting the Prophet Muhammad. The woman, an agricultural labourer, denied the allegations and both Mr Taseer and Mr Bhatti had campaigned for her to be pardoned.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Guru Careers: Trainer / IT Trainer

£30 to £32k : Guru Careers: We are seeking a Trainer / IT Trainer to join an a...

Recruitment Genius: Fence Installer - Commercial

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This privately owned Fencing Co...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - OTE £22,000

£17000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: If you answer yes, this company...

Recruitment Genius: Project / Account Manager and IT Support

£18000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This world leader in Online Pro...

Day In a Page

Mullah Omar, creator of the Taliban, is dead... for the fourth time

Mullah Omar, creator of the Taliban, is dead... again

I was once told that intelligence services declare their enemies dead to provoke them into popping up their heads and revealing their location, says Robert Fisk
Margaret Attwood on climate change: 'Time is running out for our fragile, Goldilocks planet'

Margaret Attwood on climate change

The author looks back on what she wrote about oil in 2009, and reflects on how the conversation has changed in a mere six years
New Dr Seuss manuscript discovered: What Pet Should I Get? goes on sale this week

New Dr Seuss manuscript discovered

What Pet Should I Get? goes on sale this week
Oculus Rift and the lonely cartoon hedgehog who could become the first ever virtual reality movie star

The cartoon hedgehog leading the way into a whole new reality

Virtual reality is the 'next chapter' of entertainment. Tim Walker gives it a try
Ants have unique ability to switch between individual and collective action, says study

Secrets of ants' teamwork revealed

The insects have an almost unique ability to switch between individual and collective action
Donovan interview: The singer is releasing a greatest hits album to mark his 50th year in folk

Donovan marks his 50th year in folk

The singer tells Nick Duerden about receiving death threats, why the world is 'mentally ill', and how he can write a song about anything, from ecology to crumpets
Let's Race simulator: Ultra-realistic technology recreates thrill of the Formula One circuit

Simulator recreates thrill of F1 circuit

Rory Buckeridge gets behind the wheel and explains how it works
Twitter accused of 'Facebookisation' over plans to overhaul reverse-chronological timeline

Twitter accused of 'Facebookisation'

Facebook exasperates its users by deciding which posts they can and can’t see. So why has Twitter announced plans to do the same?
Jane Birkin asks Hermès to rename bag - but what else could the fashion house call it?

Jane Birkin asks Hermès to rename bag

The star was shocked by a Peta investigation into the exotic skins trade
10 best waterproof mascaras

Whatever the weather: 10 best waterproof mascaras

We found lash-enhancing beauties that won’t budge no matter what you throw at them
Diego Costa biography: Chelsea striker's route to the top - from those who shared his journey

Diego Costa: I go to war. You come with me...

Chelsea's rampaging striker had to fight his way from a poor city in Brazil to life at the top of the Premier League. A new book speaks to those who shared his journey
Ashes 2015: England show the mettle to strike back hard in third Test

England show the mettle to strike back hard in third Test

The biggest problem facing them in Birmingham was the recovery of the zeitgeist that drained so quickly under the weight of Australian runs at Lord's, says Kevin Garside
Women's Open 2015: Charley Hull - 'I know I'm a good golfer but I'm also just a person'

Charley Hull: 'I know I'm a good golfer but I'm also just a person'

British teen keeps her feet on ground ahead of Women's Open
Turkey's conflict with Kurdish guerrillas in Iraq can benefit Isis in Syria

Turkey's conflict with Kurdish guerrillas in Iraq can benefit Isis in Syria

Turkish President Erdogan could benefit politically from the targeting of the PKK, says Patrick Cockburn
Yvette Cooper: Our choice is years of Tory rule under Jeremy Corbyn or a return to a Labour government

Our choice is years of Tory rule under Corbyn or a return to a Labour government

Yvette Cooper urged Labour members to 'get serious' about the next general election rather than become 'a protest movement'