Thousands of people have attended the funeral of Shahbaz Bhatti, the former Pakistani minorities affairs minister who was murdered on Wednesday.
Bhatti, a member of Pakistan’s tiny Christian minority, was reportedly assassinated in Islamabad by Taliban gunmen after he recommended that the country changed its blasphemy laws. He was the second prominent Pakistani politician killed this year for challenging the blasphemy laws – in January, the governor of Punjab, Salman Taseer, was shot to death by his own bodyguards for the very same reason.
The funeral for Bhatti took place at his home village of Khushpur, near Faisalabad in northeastern Pakistan under extremely heavy security.
The killers have snatched our hero, said Bhatti's brother, Sikander, according to the Associated Press.
A church service held earlier in Islamabad for Bhatti was attended by Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani, who praised the deceased.
People like him, they are very rare, Gilani told the packed congregation. All the minorities have lost a great leader. I assure you, we will try our utmost to bring the culprits to justice.
The church service was also attended by various government officials, parliament members, foreign diplomats and Christians.
The blasphemy law, which is opposed by secularists, liberals and religious minorities, imposes a death sentence for anyone who is convicted of insulting Islam.
The recent murders of those who have publicly questioned the blasphemy laws will likely end debate on the subject, at least for a while. An MP Sherry Rehman who sought to amend the law dropped the bill out of fear for her safety.
Meanwhile, Pakistan’s Christians, who comprise less than 2 percent of the nation’s population, are left without their most significant representative. The Chritian community feels especially vulnerable now and many think the killers will never be brought to justice.
Bhatti knew he was a marked man for his opinions on the blasphemy law and recorded a video a few months ago where he predicted he would be killed.
I am living for my community, and for suffering people, he said on the video. And I will die to defend their rights. I prefer to die for my principles and for the justice of my community rather than to compromise.