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Pakistan murder inquiry called into question

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan (BP) — The investigation into the 2011 murder of Shahbaz Bhatti, the only Christian in Pakistan’s cabinet, has come under fire from Bhatti’s family as well as the All Pakistan Minorities Alliance, according to a report by Compass Direct News.

Lax investigations, a series of freed suspects and lack of coordination across law enforcement organizations have stalled the case following the slaying of the federal minister for minority affairs in March of last year, sources told Compass. Bhatti’s family and the All Pakistan Minorities Alliance have condemned what they describe as inaction and lack of seriousness by government authorities.

A trial court in the town of Rawalpindi earlier this month exonerated yet another suspect arrested for his alleged role in the murder.

Rana Masood Akhtar, special judge in Anti-terrorism Court II, freed Ziaur Rehman after an investigating officer told the court that Rehman no longer was wanted in the case due to lack of evidence. Bhatti’s family cited business disputes between Rehman and Bhatti as their reason for suspecting Rehman.

In February police dropped the investigation of another suspect, Abid Malik, for lack of evidence. At first, Rehman fled and managed to escape when police arrested Malik at Lahore’s Allama Iqbal International Airport.

Bhatti’s brother Paul said the family is not satisfied with the police investigation and authorities’ low level of interest in bringing the perpetrators to justice.

“We thought Ziaur Rehman’s arrest would lead us to the killers of my brother because the police had obtained an international arrest warrant based on evidence,” Paul Bhatti said. “I don’t understand why they issued the request [for an Interpol warrant] if they did not have sufficient evidence.”

In June 2011, a trial court released Hafiz Nazar Muhammad for lack of evidence after arresting him for having made threatening calls to Bhatti from Sargodha.

Bhatti was an outspoken critic of the country’s widely condemned “blasphemy” laws. At the scene of Bhatti’s murder, police recovered a leaflet, presumably left by the attackers, asserting that they had killed him for raising his voice against the blasphemy laws.

Officially, police claim the Taliban was behind the murder, while Interior Minister Rehman Malik has put the blame on militant group Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan.

The assailants sprayed 25 to 30 bullets at Bhatti’s car after he came out of his mother’s home in a residential area of Islamabad, Pakistan’s capital, to attend a meeting of the federal cabinet. The federal government had provided bodyguards for Bhatti but they were not present at the time of the attack.

The murder came two months after Punjab Gov. Salman Taseer was killed by his bodyguard for supporting Asia Noreen (also known as Asia Bibi), the first Christian woman sentenced to death in Pakistan on blasphemy charges. Bhatti had defied death threats after the Jan. 4 assassination of Taseer, conceding in several interviews that he was “the highest target right now” but vowing to continue his work and trusting his life to God.

“Shahbaz Bhatti’s murder is no ordinary case,” said Napolean Qayyum, who belongs to the Pakistan People’s Party, as Bhatti did. “He represented the minorities in the highest forums of government, was a prominent member of a minority religious community himself and was very vocal against the blasphemy laws.”

Qayyum said there was some indication that officials were hesitating to publicize their assessments of the case.

“But given its high-profile nature, it is important that they share the truth,” he said.
Reported by Compass Direct News (www.compassdirect.org), a news service based in Santa Ana, Calif., focusing on Christians worldwide who are persecuted for their faith. Used by permission.

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