Gurpreet Singh: Assassinated Pakistani minister discussed death threats on Radio India

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      Pakistan’s minorities minister Shahbaz Bhatti—who was assassinated March 2 for suggesting changes in the country’s blasphemy law—was determined to pay any price.

      In an interview with this reporter on Surrey-based Radio India in January, Bhatti acknowledged that he had received death threats from radical Muslim clerics.

      "I have been told that I would be beheaded," he said at the time. "But I am ready to pay any price and will continue to work to bring changes in the blasphemy law, which is affecting both the minorities and the majority."

      Bhatti was shot dead in a broad daylight in Islamabad. A Muslim extremist group, Tehrik-i-Taliban, has claimed responsibility for his murder.

      Bhatti, the only Christian in the Pakistan cabinet, said on Radio India that he was receiving threats following the assassination of Salman Taseer, governor of Pakistan's Punjab province.

      Taseer was shot by one of his own bodyguards on January 4.

      At the time, Taseer was trying to help Asia Bibi, a Christian woman who is facing death sentence for allegedly making blasphemous remarks against the Prophet Mohammad.

      Taseer’s assassin, Malik Mumtaz Qadri, received commendation from many radical clerics in Pakistan.

      Bhatti described Taseer as a martyr and suggested that those who glorified his killer are realer blasphemers.

      "The so-called custodians of religion should know that you can kill a person but not his ideas," Bhatti said at the time.

      He believed that the blasphemy law that was introduced by the late former Pakistani president Zia-ul-Haq to please Muslim fundamentalists. Bhatti suggested that it needs sweeping changes as it is being widely misused, particularly against minorities in the theocratic Muslim state of Pakistan.

      "Though the law is also affecting the majority Muslim community...the minorities have to suffer twice," he commented.

      In Bhatti’s view, the founder of Pakistan, Muhammad Ali Jinnah, was a liberal Muslim, whereas radical clerics are trying to turn the country into a Taliban state.

      "We have to make a choice between a tyrant Muslim state and an open and modern state Jinnah wished to create," Bhatti stated.

      Prior to his assassination, he appealed for dialogue on the controversial subject and emphasized that a man-made law can always be changed according to circumstances.

      In addition to Bhatti, Sherry Rehman, a female Pakistani MP, has also receiving threats for supporting a bill seeking to amend the blasphemy law. An edict has been issued against her by the fundamentalist clerics.

      Gurpreet Singh is Georgia Straight contributor, and the host of a program on Radio India. He's working on a book tentatively titled Canada's 9/11: Lessons from the Air India Bombings.