He bravely stood up for the Christians of Pakistan and, as a result, was brutally assassinated on March 2, 2011, by an Islamic terror group
By Dan Wooding, Founder of ASSIST News Service
MISSISSAUGA, ONTARIO, CANADA (ANS – March 14, 2016) – Shahbaz Bhatti whose life and death was recently celebrated at an event in Canada, was a not only a true hero to the Christian community of Pakistan, but also to his many supporters around the world.
Mr. Bhatti was the first Christian to be named as Federal Minister for Minorities Affairs in the cabinet of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, and courageously served in that role from November 2008 until his brutal assassination on March 2, 2011, by an Islamic terror group.
He paid with his life for being an outspoken critic of Pakistan’s controversial blasphemy laws, and the terror group, Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan, proudly claimed responsibility at the time for his killing and called him a “blasphemer of Muhammad.”
His murder came as no surprise to many as, since 2009, Mr. Bhatti had been receiving death threats when he spoke out in support of Pakistani Christians brutalized in the 2009 Gojra riots, a series of attacks targeting Christians in Gojra town in the Punjab province of Pakistan, that resulted in the deaths of eight Christians, including four women and a child.
Then, things got worse for him following his subsequent support of Asia Bibi, the Pakistani Christian mother-of-five, sentenced to death in 2010 for blasphemy, and who is now appealing her death sentence, when the death threats increased.
According to media reports, the United States government had tried to obtain increased security for him and get him an armored car, but where unsuccessful.
Shahbaz Bhatti himself foretold his death in a recorded a video, which was “to be released” in case of his death,” where he said, “I believe in Jesus Christ who has given his own life for us, and I am ready to die for a cause. I’m living for my community … and I will die to defend their rights.”
It was soon to come true, when Bhatti was shot by three masked men while travelling to work through a residential district in Islamabad, having just left his mother’s home. At the time of the attack, he was without any security. His driver reports to have “stopped the car” and “ducked” when he saw the armed men approaching, rather than attempting to evade the threat. A seriously injured Bhatti was taken to a nearby hospital, but he was pronounced dead on arrival.
His violent death followed that of Punjab governor Salman Taseer, a moderate Muslim who was also assassinated amid the boiling controversy over the country’s blasphemy laws.
On the day following Bhatti’s assassination, hundreds of Christian demonstrators took to the streets across Punjab, with protesters burning tires and demanding justice.
Now, on Saturday, March 5, 2016, the Canada-based International Christian Voice (ICV) — http://internationalchristianvoice.com/icv — held a moving event in commemoration and celebration of the life of “martyr” Shahbaz Bhatti. It was held at the Canadian Coptic Centre in Mississauga, Ontario, and more than 450 people attended.
A report on the gathering said that that ICV had organized the occasion on the fifth anniversary of the death of Shahbaz Bhatti, and it was attended by members of the Canadian and Pakistani community, including government officials and community leaders.
“The purpose of the event was to remember the sacrifice of martyr, Shahbaz Bhatti, and all other liberal thinkers in Pakistan who devoted their lives to the cause of religious equality in Pakistan and around the world,” said an ICV spokesperson.
The event began with a welcoming by ICV Vice-Chairman, Mr. Tanveer Joseph, who was also the Master of Ceremonies for the evening.
The opening remarks were given by Mrs. Eliza Charles, ICV Treasurer, who briefed the audience on the struggle and passion of Mr. Bhatti. She explained what Shahbaz Bhatti’s legacy means to the religious minorities of Pakistan, while encouraging all in attendance to “carry forward his mission.”
Rev Pastor Samuel Gori said the opening prayer as the evening’s program commenced.
A moving candlelight tribute in honor of Shahbaz Bhatti then took place, which included the lighting of candles by honorable guests, distinguished community leaders and pastors and the family of Shahbaz Bhatti. During the ceremony, singer Ms. Nina Manhilot performed a touching tribute song in memory of Mr. Bhatti.
Following the candle lighting ceremony, a tribute by Shahbaz Bhatti’s nieces and nephew was presented along with a live musical accompaniment by Carolyn and Joanna Dass. Throughout the tribute, Nitasha Bhatti, David Bhatti, Kristina Yousif, and Jennifer Yousif provided insight into the lifelong struggle of Shahbaz Bhatti from his early years of helping the poor children in his village, and fighting for “religious equality” in his schools through to his final years as federal minister, and also for calling for an amendment of Pakistan’s blasphemy laws and raising the plight of religious minorities onto an international level.
The first speech of the evening was given by Ms. Noreen Azaria, who paid tribute to the struggle of Shahbaz Bhatti and called for the community to collectively carry forward Shahbaz Bhatti’s mission for “interfaith harmony in Pakistan and around the world.”
A presentation of the situation of the Pakistani Christian asylum seekers in Thailand was given by Ms. Sara Joseph who, along with other ICV delegates, had visited Thailand in October 2015. Ms. Joseph highlighted the “dire situation” these asylum seekers were in and explained in detail the suffering that they faced at the hands of Thai immigration police. Following her presentation, which included photographs and video testimonials, she called on the Canadian community to assist these Pakistani Christian asylum seekers in “any way possible” and stressed the importance of “taking action” on such issues.
Rev. Father Angelos Saad, Chair of the Canadian Coptic Centre, then reflected on the life and mission of Shahbaz Bhatti, speaking of his “courageous efforts to stand against terrorism and religious persecution.” Father Saad commended the efforts of Mr. Bhatti and honored his “sacrifice as a follower of Christian values and principles.”
The Honorable Raj Grewal, M.P. for Brampton East, then congratulated ICV for their “great work for human rights and religious freedom.” He then proceeded to pay tribute to Shahbaz Bhatti by highlighting his accomplishments as a political leader and honoring his “tireless efforts to promote religious equality.” Mr. Grewal assured ICV and their community supporters that the Canadian government “stands with them in their mission to carry forward the legacy of Shahbaz Bhatti.”
Then, the Honorable Garnett Genuis, M.P. for Sherwood Park, Fort Saskatchewan, provided a personal reflection on the life of Shahbaz Bhatti, highlighting the “Christian dedication of love and sacrifice” that he carried in his life as a political and social leader. He stressed that it was Shahbaz Bhatti’s “faith that drove him to be the selfless leader” that he was and that his “dedication to his cause and community” was based in the Christian lessons that he grew up with. He encouraged the community to follow in Shahbaz Bhatti’s example to “work for the good of others.”
He also shared a letter from Conservative Party of Canada (CPC) leader Rona Ambrose, who also paid tribute to the “life and legacy of Shahbaz Bhatti” while committing to “carry forward Canada’s role on religious freedom.”
Another that was also present, was the Honourable Jagmeet Singh, Deputy Leader of Ontario’s New Democratic Party (NDP) and a member of the Legislative Assembly of Ontario since he who was elected in 2011, representingBramalea-Gore-Malton. He told the audience about the admiration he shared about the “inspiration that Shahbaz Bhatti brought into his life as a selfless leader in country where intolerance and religious inequality is rampant and widespread.” He also shared that Mr. Bhatti’s “determination in the face of adversity” how that was an “encouraging sentiment for the entire community to follow in order to raise the issue of religious freedom around the world.
One highlight of the evening was when ICV Chairman, Mr. Peter Bhatti, brother of Shahbaz Bhatti, thanked all in attendance for “showing their solidarity and support to ICV on the “fifth commemoration and celebration of the life and legacy of ‘martyr’ Shahbaz Bhatti.”
Mr. Bhatti spoke about the vision of a democratic and pluralistic society that Pakistan’s founder, Muhammad Ali Jinnah, also called “Quaid-e-Azam” had for his nation, which was the “same vision” that Shahbaz Bhatti “sacrificed his life for.” He also stressed the importance of helping refugees and asylum seekers around the world and called on the Canadian government to take action on this issue, while stressing the importance of keeping Canada’s Office of Religious Freedom running.
The ICV spokesperson said that ICV was “honored to have Dr. Katrina Lantos Swett, Commissioner of the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom, partake in this event.”
Dr. Swett addressed the community and spoke of the impact Martyr Shahbaz Bhatti had on the “human rights and religious freedom community in the United States.” She spoke of the “many challenges” that Pakistan is facing in regards to the “intolerance and inequality that has plagued the nation as a whole.” She also spoke of Shahbaz Bhatti’s integrity and “conviction in fighting for religious freedom in Pakistan” and encouraged the community to “follow his example.”
The Honourable Asghar Ali Golo, Consul General of Pakistan based in Toronto, was also present and addressed the community regarding Shahbaz Bhatti’s role in “raising the voice of all religious minorities in Pakistan.” Mr. Golo spoke of the “unfortunate events throughout history that led Pakistan to reach state it is in today” and gave his assurance that he would “continue to work alongside all Pakistani’s to create a prosperous and tolerant Pakistan.”
The President of Canadian Christian Association (CCA), Roger Sampson, and Vice President, Noel Chaudhry, also shared their thoughts on the life and legacy of Shahbaz Bhatti. They spoke of his “effectiveness as a Christian politician and leader in Pakistan” and admired “his stance and vocal opposition of Pakistan’s discriminatory laws.” CCA commended the action taken by all organizations working to “keep the mission of Shahbaz Bhatti alive” and committed to “work alongside the community to assist the helpless, victimized people of Pakistan.”
The President of “Red Shawl,” Mrs. Zari Gill, addressed the event about the “great work” that Shahbaz Bhatti started on the “reformation of Pakistan’s blasphemy laws” and stressed that “concrete steps must be taken by the Pakistan community abroad” to fulfill the work that Bhatti began. She also committed to working alongside ICV and other organizations to “create a better life for helpless Pakistani Christian refugees and asylum seekers.”
Dr. Emmanuel Aziz was the final speaker for the evening and he outlined the oppression that minorities in Pakistan have faced throughout history. Dr. Aziz also highlighted the contributions and achievements of Shahbaz Bhatti towards “all religious minorities of Pakistan” and paid tribute to “his life and legacy.”
ICV executives, Mr. Qamar Andreas and Max Gill, were honored by ICV for their work and commitment with in organization to continue the legacy of Shahbaz Bhatti.
Professor Dr. David Koyzis and Rev. Dr. Nancy Koyzis said the closing prayers and grace for dinner which was followed by another performance by Ms. Manhilot.
It was a fitting tribute to a truly great Pakistani Christian, whose life and work will never be forgotten by groups like ICV.
Photo captions: Shahbaz Bhatti holding onto the cross before his untimely death. 2) ICV Chairman Mr. Peter Bhatti speaking on the legacy of his late brother, Shahbaz Bhatti. 3) Candle Lighting by the family of Shahbaz Bhatti. 4) USCIRF Chair Dr. Katrina Lantos Swetts sharing her thoughts on the life and legacy of Shahbaz Bhatti. 5) The audience at the memorial event for Shahbaz Bhatti. 6) Dan Wooding at his Southern California home with his award from the BPCA.
About the writer: Dan Wooding, 75, is an award-winning winning author, broadcaster and journalist who was born in Nigeria of British missionary parents, and is now living in Southern California with his wife Norma, to whom he has been married for more than 52 years. They have two sons, Andrew and Peter, and six grandchildren who all live in the UK. Dan is the founder and international director of ASSIST (Aid to Special Saints in Strategic Times) and the ASSIST News Service (ANS), and is also the author of some 45 books, the latest of which is Mary, My Story from Bethlehem to Calvary (http://marythebook.com). He has been given a special award by the British Pakistani Christian Association (BPCA) in the UK for his reporting on the plight of Pakistani Christians, and will soon receive another honor for the same from the Legal Evangelical Association Development (LEAD) in Pakistan.
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