Few people outside Pakistan probably remember where they were or what they were doing on March 2, 2011. Yet for religious minorities in that pivotal Islamic nation, it was a historically sad day: Shahbaz Bhatti, a Catholic layman and first Federal Minister for Minority Affairs, was murdered when his car was riddled with 27 bullets.
In a video recorded shortly before his death, he said: “I know Jesus Christ who sacrificed his life for others. I understand well the meaning of the cross. I am ready to give my life for my people.”
Since Bhatti died not only because of his Catholic faith but his fight for all religious minorities, including Muslims, his younger brother Paul, a family doctor who has his practice in Italy but who’s often in and out of Pakistan, would like to see March 2 declared as an international day of “basic human rights,” starting with the right to profess any faith or none at all.
“Professing one’s faith is a basic human right,” Paul Bhatti told Crux on Thursday, echoing his martyred brother. “It’s a human right to believe [in God] or not. No one should be killed for having a different faith or no faith at all.”
The younger Bhatti is the former federal Minister of National Harmony and Minority Affairs of Pakistan, giving him first-hand experience of what’s actually feasible when it comes to minorities such as Christians, who often see their lives threatened and who on a daily basis are treated as second-class members of society.
Christians make up one of the two largest non-Muslim religious minorities in Pakistan, along with Hindus. As of 2005, Christians were estimated to be 2.5 million, representing 1.5 percent of the total population.
Religious minorities often don’t have access to good jobs, are not allowed to own businesses or attend the best schools. In addition, the country’s blasphemy law means that anyone can be accused of saying something offensive to Allah or the Quran and sent to jail, even sentenced to the death penalty.
Read more at Crux