By Dan Wooding
Founder of ASSIST Ministries
ISLAMABAD, PAKISTAN (ANS) -- Police investigators in Pakistan are developing a theory that the murder of Pakistani Religious Affairs Minister Shahbaz Bhatti was due to a "family dispute," not religious extremism, according to a story on August 9, in the Express Tribune English daily newspaper.
Mr. Bhatti was the first Federal Minister for Minorities from 2008 until he was assassinated on March 2, 2011 in Islamabad.
Quoting an unidentified official associated with the Joint Investigation Team (JIT) probing the assassination, the Tribune said "Shahbaz's murder is said to be linked to a 'chronic rivalry' with relatives who lived in Faisalabad five years ago."
According to a story written by Anto Akkara for Ecumenical News International (ENInews), Bhatti, 42, the first Christian in the Pakistani cabinet, had "vigorously campaigned for minority religious rights in Pakistan, which is 95 percent Muslim."
He went on to say, "He had criticized the country's blasphemy law, which makes it a capital crime to insult Islam, before he was ambushed and sprayed with bullets on March 2, 2011, as he was leaving for his office in Islamabad. Groups claiming ties with the Islamic Taliban and al-Qaida later claimed responsibility for the murder."
Shahbaz Bhatti had also campained for the release of Asia Bibi, a Christian mother of five who has been sentenced to death for alleged blasphemy.
Christian groups, said Akkara, criticized the police investigation, based on the news reports. "This is just another cover up. They want to show that Shahbaz was not killed by religious extremists," Victor Azariah, general secretary of the National Council of Churches in Pakistan (NCCP), told ENInews on 12 August from his office in Lahore.
Blood stained car after assasination of Mr. Bhatti
Azariah said there is now no confidence in the Bhatti probe. "Nothing is going to happen with this investigation. The people have lost faith in the process," he said. The NCCP groups the country's four mainline Protestant churches. "The investigators seem to ignore even the claim of an Islamic party owning up to the murder," he added.
Cecil Choudhary, executive secretary of the All Pakistan Minorities Alliance (APMA), co-founded by Bhatti, told ENInews that the news represented "an extremely alarming twist" in the investigation. "It has deliberately been taken onto another track in order to clear the Islamic extremists, who categorically claimed responsibility for the murder," he said. APMA plans to organize street protests to demand a judicial enquiry into the assassination. "We want the truth to come out," he said.
Peter Jacob, executive secretary of the Justice and Commission of the Catholic church, told ENInews that the "family feud" theory is unfounded. "Bhatti is my third cousin and I know him from childhood. We have the same relatives. The allegation of family and property feud is only to defame a bold champion of minority rights," he said.
The Express Tribune, based in Karachi, Pakistan, is published in collaboration with the International Herald Tribune.
A recent meeting of the Central Executive Committee of The All Pakistan Minorities Alliance (AMPA) was held in Islamabad and presided over by Dr. Paul Bhatti (brother of the murdered minister) and Chairman of the Alliance.
At the gathering, the participants "strongly condemned" the latest developments released to the media, in which the Police investigators have attributed the Bhatti's assassination to a property dispute between relatives rather than a religiously motivated murder, subsequently diverting the case away from reality.
Members of Human Rights Focus Pakistan protesting the murder fo Shahbaz Bhatti
In a message to ANS, a spokesperson for AMPA said that those at the meeting "stated that the investigation has deliberately been taken onto another track in order to clear the actual culprits, who have categorically claimed responsibility for the murder. They further stated that turning the investigation into personal enmity and dispute over property is an attempt to sabotage the great sacrifice that Shahbaz Bhatti rendered for the rights of minorities.
"They said that such distortion of facts has sent a wave of anxiety and anger among the religious minorities.
The participants stated that the religious minorities of Pakistan rejects this investigation and demands the formation of a Judicial Commission under the supervision of a High Court Judge to investigate this highly sensitive case and uncover the hidden motives behind the assassination.
"The participants also stated that in case of any further delay in arresting the murderers and uncovering the conspiracy behind the assassination of Shahbaz Bhatti, the religious minorities will be compelled to launch a countrywide protest, until their demands are met.
"They also demanded of the Government to revisit all laws discriminating against minorities and to take concrete measures to curb its misuse.
The meeting concluded with the participants paying homage to Shahbaz Bhatti for his endeavors in seeking to improve and protect the rights and equality of religious minorities in Pakistan, they expressed that Shaheed Shahbaz Bhatti, through the sacrifice of his blood, had raised the heads of the religious minorities with pride."
The spokesperson added, "They stated that Shahbaz Bhatti was a bold, committed and courageous activist who dedicated his entire life for the cause of the religious minorities of Pakistan. He fearlessly raised a voice for the rights of minorities, justice, religious freedoms and was murdered as he stood firmly against the growing misuse of the Blasphemy Laws. They pledged not to let his sacrifice go to waste.
"The Alliance vowed to carry forward the mission of their Shahbaz Bhatti until success or martyrdom.
"At the end of the meeting a special prayer was offered for the integrity and prosperity of Pakistan and for peace and harmony within the country."
|Dan Wooding, 70, is an award winning British journalist now living in Southern California with his wife Norma, to whom he has been married for 48 years. They have two sons, Andrew and Peter, and six grandchildren who all live in the UK. He is the founder and international director of ASSIST (Aid to Special Saints in Strategic Times) and the ASSIST News Service (ANS) and was, for ten years, a commentator, on the UPI Radio Network in Washington, DC. He now hosts the weekly "Front Page Radio" show on KWVE in Southern California which is also carried throughout the United States. The program is also aired in Great Britain on Calvary Chapel Radio UK and also in Belize and South Africa. Besides this, Wooding is a host for His Channel Live, which is carried via the Internet to some 200 countries. You can follow Dan on Facebook under his name there or at ASSIST News Service. He is the author of some 44 books. Two of the latest include his autobiography, "From Tabloid to Truth", which is published by Theatron Books. To order a copy, press this link. Wooding, who was born in Nigeria of British missionary parents, has also recently released his first novel "Red Dagger" which is available this link.|