Christian leaders have rejected claims by police that assassinated minorities’ affairs minister, Shahbaz Bhatti, was killed by a relative and not by religious extremists.
A joint investigation team believes the murder of the Catholic minister was linked to a bitter property dispute with relatives in Faisalabad, in Punjab province. Police investigators have concluded that it was not a religiously-motivated murder and that the killers, a few of whom have now converted to Islam, are currently in Dubai or Kuala Lumpur.
Bhatti, who supported changes to the country’s controversial blasphemy laws, was gunned down on March 2 in Islamabad. Supporters of al-Qaeda and the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan claimed responsibility for the killing. Two of his brothers moved to Europe in the aftermath of the assassination for security reasons.
Paul Bhatti, advisor to the prime minister on minorities’ affairs and brother of the slain minister, said on Monday he now plans to ask the premier to set up a judicial commission to investigate the murder.
The killing came two months after a police bodyguard assassinated Punjab provincial governor Salman Taseer for opposing the blasphemy laws. Activists from several Islamic parties continue to voice support and gather outside the killer’s trial venue at all the hearings.
Archbishop Emeritus Lawrence Saldanha of Lahore called the police findings regarding Bhatti’s death “ridiculous.”
“This is a dirty game by authorities who are not interested in punishing the killers. The police know who the criminals are but they are using an age old tactic,” said the prelate.
The All Pakistan Minority Alliance (APMA) also strongly condemned police claims.
“It is an attempt to make the investigation more complicated. Our leader died in the struggle against discriminatory laws,” said Khalid Gill, chief organizer of the Christian political party.
APMA plans to pay its own tribute to their patron tomorrow (August 11), which Bhatti had declared National Minorities Day.