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MRG condemns killing of Pakistan’s Minorities Minister

2 March 2011

Minority Rights Group International on Wednesday condemned the assassination of Pakistan's Minorities Minister, Shahbaz Bhatti, and raised serious concerns about the worsening situation for religious minorities in the country.

Mr. Bhatti was shot dead by unknown gunmen who fired at his car in Pakistan's capital Islamabad.

'We are shocked and deeply saddened by the killing of Mr. Bhatti who championed the rights of minorities in Pakistan, despite serious and continuing threats to his life and security,' says Mark Lattimer, MRG's Executive Director. 'The government of Pakistan must now act to ensure his killers do not enjoy impunity.'

Bhatti, the country's only Christian cabinet minister, recently came under severe threat as he pursued a campaign to reform Pakistan's blasphemy laws that have been misused to prosecute members of religious minorities. The blasphemy laws carry the death penalty for persons found guilty of defaming the prophet Muhammad.

In January, the governor of Punjab province, Salman Taseer, was shot dead by his body guard because he supported amending the law.

In February, MRG issued a statement expressing disappointment at the failed attempts to reform the blasphemy laws after the MP who had proposed a parliamentary amendment to the law announced that she was not pursuing the bill. MP Sherry Rahman said that it was no longer possible to continue with the bill after she too came under threat.

MRG calls on the Pakistani authorities to conduct an impartial investigation into Mr. Bhatti's killing and to ensure that the perpetrators are brought to justice. The organisation also called for greater protection of activists and political and religious leaders who are from minority communities or fighting for religious freedom in Pakistan.

'The situation for minorities in Pakistan, including Christians and Ahamadiyya, is extremely worrying,' says Lattimer. 'The Pakistani government needs to show far greater commitment to the protection of religious minorities. It should send out a clear message that those perpetrating attacks against minorities will not go unpunished,' Lattimer adds.