Last week Shahbaz Bhatti was murdered by Taliban gunmen in Islamabad as he was being driven to work. He was Pakistan’s Minority Affairs Minister and the only Christian at the head of the federal government. Mr Bhatti was a Catholic and came from a family of poor farm workers. Born in a small village, he was elected in 2008 to a seat reserved for Christians, the largest group in Pakistan’s non-Muslim population.
For some time he had been the subject of death threats because of his opposition to the blasphemy laws in Pakistan. He spoke up when a 45 year old mother of 4, Aasia Bibi, was sentenced to death because she had been accused of criticising Islam. Those who murdered Mr Bhatti said they killed him because he, too, was guilty of blasphemy.
A few weeks ago Mr Bhatti, who was 42, made a video which was found after his death. He spoke of the desire of al-Qa’ida and Taliban militants to kill him because of his stand against the country’s blasphemy laws. He spoke of his campaign against sharia law and for the abolishment of the blasphemy law and his commitment to speak for the rights of the oppressed and marginalised, persecuted Christians and other minorities. He said. “I will die to defend their rights.”
The example of Mr Bhatti is a challenge to us all in a violent and intolerant world. He was a man who graciously held to his clear convictions. He was not afraid to stand up for what he knew to be right. He was not cowed into silence by the threats of violence against him and spoke out fearlessly for those who are being oppressed. He demonstrated love and kindness not only for his fellow Christians but also for all who were in need of help. He continued fulfilling his responsibilities as government minister despite the fact that no protection was provided for him. Mr Bhatti was a man of true strength and courage, whilst the gunmen who killed him were weak and cowardly.
Mr Bhatti said he was inspired by the example of Jesus, who was also killed because he spoke the truth. Jesus did not retaliate when he was insulted. When he suffered, he did not threaten to get even. He left his case in the hands of God, who always judges fairly. Mr Bhatti knew Jesus as his Saviour and was ready to live and, if need be, to die for him.