World religious leaders, policymakers and human rights activists gathered virtually March 2 to mark the 10-year anniversary of the assassination of Shahbaz Bhatti, the Pakistani Christian politician targeted by the Taliban for championing religious freedom. His killers never were prosecuted.
Bhatti’s brother and nephew, speaking from Canada, joined in the dialogue that included a panel discussion, more than 40 video testimonials and more than 50 written statements, including submissions from Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and U.S. Sens. Mark Warner and Tim Kaine.
The faith-based courage Bhatti displayed in the face of relentless death threats ahead of his shooting helped inspire the massive turnout at his commemoration, said event co-organizer Knox Thames, a senior fellow at the Institute for Global Engagement and former special advisor for religious minorities in the Near East and South and Central Asia at the U.S. State Department.
“It’s his heroic love of neighbor that makes him so inspiring. He is an example of it,” Thames said in a March 1 interview about his friendship with Bhatti. “He was a devout Catholic, but he was fighting to protect all Pakistanis who were being persecuted for their religious beliefs.”
Bhatti’s selfless dedication to religious freedom for all, Thames said, resonated with the principles of Thames’ own Baptist upbringing: “He was living out the call to ‘go and do likewise’ to reach across religious and ethnic boundaries.”
‘The martyrdom of Shahbaz Bhatti’
One of the most high-profile cases that demonstrated Bhatti’s compassion — and one that motivated his killers — was that of Asia Bibi, a Christian woman falsely accused and condemned under Pakistan’s notorious blasphemy law in 2010.
Bhatti, serving as minister of minority affairs under then-President Ali Zardari, took her case to the global community, including the United States, where Thames and others helped connect him with Congressional leaders, National Security Council officials and then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
Bhatti’s campaign for Bidi — and against the blasphemy laws that make Pakistan one of the most dangerous countries for Christians — also drew the attention of Muslim extremists who gunned him down in 2011 in Islamabad. World leaders, including U.S. President Barack Obama, issued statements lamenting Bhatti’s death.
Bidi was released in 2018 and immigrated to Canada. In her video tribute played during Bhatti’s 10-year commemoration, she recalled hearing the news of his death.
“I never can forget the martyrdom of Shahbaz Bhatti. To this day I continue grieving for him.”
She also pleaded for activists and politicians to keep the heat on Pakistan, where forced marriages, forced conversions and religiously motivated rapes are common. “The Christian community needs more heroes like Shahbaz Bhatti. Please help and support us.”
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SOURCE: Baptist News Global, Jeff Brumley