(Adds comment, background)
ISLAMABAD, March 2 Pakistani Minister for
Minorities Shahbaz Bhatti, who had called for changes in the
country's controversial blasphemy law, was killed in a gun
attack in Islamabad on Wednesday, officials said.
Police said the shooting took place near an Islamabad
market. Bhatti was the only Christian in the Pakistani cabinet.
"The initial reports are that there were three men who
attacked him. He was probably shot using a Kalashnikov, but we
are trying to ascertain what exactly happened," said Islamabad
police chief Wajid Durrani.
A hospital spokesman said Bhatti had several bullet wounds.
The anti-blasphemy law has been in the spotlight since last
November, when a court sentenced a Christian mother of four to
On Jan. 4 the governor of the most populous province of
Punjab, Salman Taseer, who had strongly opposed the law and
sought presidential pardon for the 45-year-old Christian
farmhand, was gunned down by one of his bodyguards.
The anti-blasphemy law has its roots in 19th-century
colonial legislation to protect places of worship, but it was
during the military dictatorship of General Mohammad Zia ul-Haq
in the 1980s that it acquired teeth as part of a drive to
Islamise the state.
Liberal Pakistanis and rights groups believe the law to be
dangerously discriminatory against the country's tiny minority
Under the law, anyone who speaks ill of Islam and the
Prophet Mohammad commits a crime and faces the death penalty,
but activists say the vague terminology has led to its misuse.
Christians who make up about two percent of Pakistan's
population have been especially concerned about the law saying
it offers them no protection.
Convictions hinge on witness testimony and often these are
linked to personal vendettas, critics say.
Blasphemy convictions are common, although the death
sentence has never been carried out. Most convictions are thrown
out on appeal, but angry mobs have killed many people accused of
(Reporting by Zeeshan Haider and Chris Allbritton; Editing by
Robert Birsel and John Chalmers)
(For more Reuters coverage of Afghanistan and Pakistan, see: here.
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