Shahbaz Bhatti, Pakistan's Minister for Minorities Affairs, was assassinated on Wednesday 2 March 2011 as he left his mother's house in Islamabad for a meeting of the Cabinet to which he had been recently re-appointed. He was shot multiple times in his car, by gunmen who left a note claiming to be from the Pakistani Taliban. Shahbaz had committed his life to improving the situation of minority communities in Pakistan, pursuing the inclusive vision of the country's founders, and he was killed for his lifelong outspoken criticism of the blasphemy laws which so undermine this vision.
"He never faltered from his goal, not for one minute, not even when he became a minister." Group Captain (Rtd) Cecil Chaudhry, mentor and friend to Bhatti since 1992.
"The tributes paid to Shahbaz Bhatti show the esteem in which he was held, both within and far beyond the Christian community to which he belonged. He was driven by his deep faith, and he was a patriot in the truest sense, one who sought the best for his country, and who realised that the reform and repeal of the abusive blasphemy laws, and the promotion of inter-faith harmony, would benefit not only the minorities he represented, but all of Pakistani society." Stuart Windsor, National Director of Christian Solidarity Worldwide
"I remember he once told me that he had never taken a holiday, and he worked extraordinary hours. He said he was in a battle, in the trenches, and when you're a soldier in a war you don't get holidays. He was one of the most self-less people I have ever known. He and I once missed a bomb by five minutes, and I realised then that he lived with threats, assassination attempts and other dangers every day." Ben Rogers, CSW East Asia Team Leader and previous advocacy officer for Pakistan.
"What a tragic loss of a good man and a courageous advocate for justice and religious freedom." Tina Lambert, Former CSW Advocacy Director.
Motivated by his faith
Shahbaz often said that his central motivation was his Christian faith. He was a Catholic who sought to follow the sacrificial example of Christ, dedicating his life to the needs others from a young age. Between 1985 and 2008, he worked as a minority rights activist, representing and standing in solidarity with countless individuals at risk because of their beliefs. Though an activist at heart, Shahbaz agreed to join the government in 2008 and was appointed as Federal Minister for Minorities Affairs, the position having been raised to cabinet level for the first time.
A brave stand for freedom
In his official capacity Shahbaz represented the interests of Pakistan's religious minorities, however he also stood for all those subscribing to the vision of Pakistan's founding father, Mohammed Ali Jinnah, characterised by pluralism, freedom of religion and the rule of law. He fought against the blasphemy laws for most of his life, recognising that they contribute to the spreading lawlessness and intolerance in Pakistan that offers a foothold to extremist ideologies. This is why he sought not only legal change but also a shift in mindsets, which he pursued through groundbreaking interfaith initiatives at a national and grassroots level.
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CSW responds with action
As a long-term friend to Shahbaz Bhatti, and partner in his campaign for religious freedom in Pakistan, CSW was deeply grieved by the tragic news of his assassination. Since immediately after hearing the news, we have been collaborating closely with our partners in Pakistan to encourage an appropriate international response to his death, and to develop effective strategies for promoting religious freedom and inter-faith harmony in an increasingly volatile situation. We are talking with key decision-makers in the UK and US governments, the EU and UN, as well as religious leaders, to ensure the cause of religious freedom in Pakistan continues to receive the attention it needs.
- 9 September - Shahbaz Bhatti is born in Lahore, Punjab.
- He founds the 'Christian Liberation Front' (CLF) with fellow students at Lahore University, Punjab, with the aim of restoring the rights of Pakistan's religious minorities and promoting religious tolerance.
- CLF launch the first national campaign against Pakistan's blasphemy laws.
- The CSW team is introduced to Shahbaz Bhatti for the first time by Group Captain (Rtd) Cecil Chaudhry, renowned war veteran, human rights activist and Shahbaz''s mentor.
- Bhatti is given a Peace Award by the Asian Commission for Human Rights Development and the Christian League of Pakistan in America.
- Chaudhry, Bhatti and others lead a national coalition of minorities in a successful campaign calling for the government to remove the 'separate electorate' system, described by some as 'religious apartheid'.
- They found a nationwide umbrella group for minorities, the All Pakistan Minorities Alliance (APMA), based on the success in the electorate campaign. Bhatti is elected as president.
- The Pakistani state attempt to restrict Bhatti's international advocacy by placing him on the �exit control list'. His name is removed from the list after advocacy from CSW.
- Bhatti joins the national assembly with the Pakistan People's Party and is made Federal Minister for Minorities Affairs.
- May - Following pressure from Bhatti's Ministry, the Government of Pakistan approves a 5% quota for minorities in federal government jobs
- August - Bhatti makes personal representations for victims of the Gojra violence
- August - President Zardari declares August 11 as 'Minorities Day', at the recommendation of Bhatti's Ministry
- September - Bhatti is awarded medallion for religious freedom by the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom
- October - Bhatti speaks at CSW's London Conference
- April - The Ministry for Minorities Affairs secures introduction of four minorities seats in the Senate
- July - Bhatti coordinates a National Consultation on Interfaith Harmony, uniting religious leaders in a joint statement against violent terrorism and extremism.
- July - Public death threats are issued against Bhatti by a Karachi-based cleric.
- September - Bhatti attends a private audience with the Pope and visits the UK at the invitation of the Archbishop of Canterbury.
- November - President Zardari appoints Bhatti head of a Commission to review the blasphemy laws, following the international outcry against the case of Asia Noreen (Asia Bibi).
- February - Bhatti meets with US Secretary of State Clinton in Washington DC. He then travels to Canada to address the government at the invitation of the Prime Minister.
- February - Bhatti retains his position in the cabinet after it is reduced in size by two thirds.
- 2 March - Bhatti is assassinated in Islamabad by gunmen claiming to be from the Pakistani Taliban.