Amnesty seeks punishment for killers of Bhatti

Islamabad: Amnesty International called on the Pakistan government to ensure that the killers of federal minister Shahbaz Bhatti are brought to justice as members of minority communities protested the assassination in different parts of the country on Thursday.

Bhatti, the only Christian member of the cabinet and one of few politicians calling for changes in the controversial blasphemy law, was assassinated by Taliban militants a short distance from his home in Islamabad yesterday.

The banned Taliban claimed responsibility for the killing.

"The Pakistani government must act immediately to bring the assassins to justice in a trial that meets international standards.

Continued lack of accountability for perpetrators of abuse has severely eroded the rule of law in Pakistan," said Sam Zarifi, the Asia-Pacific director of Amnesty International.

Bhatti had said that he had been receiving threats from militant and extremist groups opposed to reforms of the blasphemy law.

He was killed less than two months after the assassination of Punjab Governor Salmaan Taseer, another critic of the blasphemy law.

Such incidents "thrive in the atmosphere of impunity and irresponsibility fostered by the government`s failure to uphold its human rights obligations", said Zarifi.

"The government must avoid the faulty forensic practices that have marred previous investigations, such as in the cases of Taseer and former prime minister Benazir Bhutto," he added.

Members of minority communities and groups like the All Pakistan Minorities Alliance (APMA) organised rallies and protests at several places to condemn the assassination of Bhatti.

In Peshawar, protestors carrying portraits of the slain minister demanded the arrest of those involved in his murder.

The protestors appealed to President Asif Ali Zardari and Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani to bring the killers to justice and to eliminate terrorism.

They also paid tribute to Bhatti for his campaign for protecting the rights of minorities.

Pakistan Minorities Coordination Party chief Stephen Saleem Hamdard said minorities will observe a month`s mourning for Bhatti.

Protest rallies, demonstrations, public meetings and memorial services will be held during this period, he said.

Protests were also organised in Faisalabad and Lahore in Punjab province by APMA and Pakistan Christian Democratic Alliance.

Hundreds of Christian men, women and children joined the protests and vowed to continue the mission of Bhatti.

In Lahore, Central Christian Action Committee chairman Munir Khokhar said the minorities will organise a "long march" from Lahore to Islamabad on March 15 if those involved in Bhatti`s killing are not arrested.