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Pakistani Christian leader: death threats won’t stop me speaking out

Shahbaz Bhatti pictured in Washington DC in 2009 (Photo: CNS)

Pakistan’s leading Catholic politician has said that death threats will not stop him speaking out against the country’s blasphemy law.

Shahbaz Bhatti, Minister for Minorities and the first Christian to hold a cabinet post in Pakistan, has received multiple death threats. He said during a trip to Canada: “I have been told by pro-Taliban religious extremists that if I will continue to speak against the blasphemy law, I will be beheaded.” But he said his faith gave him strength.

“As a Christian, I believe Jesus is my strength. He has given me a power and wisdom and motivation to serve suffering humanity. I follow the principles of my conscience, and I am ready to die and sacrifice my life for the principles I believe,” he said.

Mr Bhatti spoke in Ottawa while on a trip to raise awareness for his campaign to reform the country’s notoriously strict blasphemy laws, which most recently were used against Asia Bibi, the Christian woman sentenced to death for “insulting” Islam. Mrs Bibi says the allegation was invented by a neighbour to settle a score, a common complaint about the blasphemy law, and she is now in hiding. Although no one has ever been executed under Pakistan’s blasphemy laws, as many as 10 people are thought to have been murdered while on trial.

Public figures have been scared to criticise the blasphemy laws since the assassination of the governor of Punjab, Salman Taseer, by one of his bodyguards last months. Taseer had protested at the death sentence given to Asia Bibi and supported reform of the law.

On Monday it was announced that Mr Bhatti would retain his position in the cabinet following a reshuffle, despite calls by Islamists for him to be removed.