Self-described Taliban gunmen
fatally shot Pakistan’s minorities’ minister, Shahbaz Bhatti, an advocate of
reform of the country’s blasphemy laws, as he left his Islamabad home.
Two assassins sprayed the Christian
minister’s car with gunfire, striking him at least eight times, before
scattering pamphlets that described him as a “Christian infidel”.
The leaflets were signed “Taliban
Bhatti’s assassination was the
second killing of a politician in Islamabad over blasphemy in as many months,
following the assassination of the Punjab governor Salmaan Taseer outside a
cafe a few miles away on 4 January.
Dismayed human rights activists
said it was another sign of rising intolerance at hands of violent extremists.
“I am sad and upset but not
surprised,” said the veteran campaigner Tahira Abdullah outside Bhatti’s
“These people have a long list of
targets, and we are all on it. It’s not a matter of if, but when.”
The only Christian in Pakistan’s cabinet,
Bhatti had predicted his own death.
In a farewell statement recorded
four months ago, to be broadcast in the event of his death, he spoke of threats
from the Taliban and al-Qaida.
But he vowed not to stop speaking
for marginalised Christians and other minorities.
“I will die to defend their
rights,” he said on the tape released to the BBC and al-Jazeera.
“These threats and these warnings cannot
change my opinions and principles.”
Lax security did not help.
Witnesses and police said Bhatti
was travelling with just his driver when he came under attack less than 50
metres from the Islamabad home he shares with his mother.