Shahbaz Bhatti, Pakistan's Most Prominent Christian, Assassinated (Updated)
Taliban and al-Qaeda factions in Pakistan are claiming responsibility for the assassination of the only Christian serving in the Islamic state's government. Shahbaz Bhatti, 42, was shot outside his mother's home in Islamabad Wednesday morning.
Bhatti, who was Pakistan's Federal Minister for Minorities Affairs, was well known for campaigning against the nation's strict blasphemy law and lobbying for the rights of religious minorities. Last year Bhatti made a video to be released in the event of his death. Embedded below, the video shows Bhatti saying that "the forces of violence" were prepared to kill him because "they want to impose their radical philosophy in Pakistan."
"I'm ready to die for a cause," Bhatti said. "I'm living for my community and suffering people, and I will die to defend their rights. So these threats and these warnings cannot change my opinions and principles."
Johan Candelin, goodwill ambassador for the religious freedom advocacy group First Step Forum, said that he and Bhatti created the video during a December 2010 interview.
"It's sort of his testimony to the world." Candelin said. Candelin, who worked with Bhatti for about seven years and interviewed him several times, said that Bhatti had very much come to terms with the prospect of his own murder: "He said, 'I have not married because I know that I will be killed, and I am willing to be a martyr for Christ.' He said, 'I would even find it to be a big honor to be killed for my faith in Jesus Christ. I'm ready to give my blood for that.'"
People who knew him describe Bhatti as a rare figure: a Christian who earned the respect of many in the Muslim majority, who eventually won a place in the government to give voice to those for whom he'd been an advocate for over two decades. He joined the ruling Pakistan People's Party in 2002 and was elected to the National Assembly—and appointed Minister for Minority Affairs—in 2008.
"He was the only Christian minister in the Pakistani government, and he was working on behalf of all minorities," said Chris Seiple, president of the Institute for Global Engagement. "That is the definition of a Christian, in some ways, to take your faith so seriously that you work for others to [be free to] not believe as you do."
Bhatti had a very strong profile in the West as a campaigner for Pakistan's religious minorities, Candelin said. Just two weeks ago, he recalls, Bhatti spent an hour with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in Washington. Soon afterward, he visited Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper and received a five-minute standing ovation during a speech before the Canadian Parliament.
Cecil Chaudhry, an educator and mentor who described his 25-year friendship with Bhatti as a "father-and-son" relationship, described him as a deeply dedicated worker whose vision for Pakistan drew inspiration from the country's founder, Muhammad Ali Jinnah.
"He was one of the most committed persons that I've ever come across," Chaudhry said. "He committed himself to his cause at the age of 18 and he stuck to it. He realized that the only solution to the problem of the country is for the country to be what the father of the nation had envisioned it to be: a secular state where everybody has a right to live, where every single human being has equal rights with the other. That was his conviction, and that was his mission. To make Pakistan into Jinnah's Pakistan."
Before joining Pakistan's cabinet, Bhatti led a number of organizations which campaigned for religious equality. Bhatti, a Roman Catholic, worked on behalf of all of Pakistan's religious minorities, including Sikhs, Hindus, Buddhists, and even some ill-regarded sects of Islam, Candelin said.