Almost three years have passed since the murder of Shahbaz Bhatti, a Pakistani MP who lobbied against the country’s controversial blasphemy laws. Now, his elder brother’s life is under threat.
Paul Bhatti was living in Italy when his brother was murdered on March 2, 2011, but he soon returned to Pakistan to take over the chairmanship of the All-Pakistan Minorities’ Alliance, which his brother founded.
He says his desire is to speak on behalf of the country’s marginalised and oppressed, to fight for improved education and opportunities for the poor and for those facing discrimination – and, in Pakistan, this often means Christians, who comprise around 2.4 % of the population.
But after the court summoned him to testify at the ongoing trial of those accused of his brother’s murder, both he and other family members received death threats.
These threats have led him to delay his return from a pre-arranged visit to Italy and to demand police protection for his family.
Bhatti failed to appear as a witness at court on Feb. 19, instead sending his lawyer to provide evidence of the threats against him. However, he told World Watch Monitor that he sees little point in testifying.
“According to my point of view, they don’t need even our witness,” he said by phone from Italy. “They can just charge them because they have confessed. We have not filed a case against them, because we didn’t see these people, so we don’t know really if they are the real criminals or not.”
Bhatti said he plans to return to Pakistan in around a week’s time, although he is first seeking assurances of security from the police.
When asked whether he could continue his work from abroad, Bhatti insisted he must return home.
“You have to stay with your own people and most of these people need our support,” he said. “It’s not only me or my organisation [in danger]. Every day there is bomb blast; there are lot of innocent lives lost every day.”
And Bhatti, a Catholic, says he is particularly concerned with protecting Christians, who he says are the most vulnerable group.
“In this situation of instability in Pakistan the minorities suffer more, especially the Christian minority, which belongs to the most poor sector of Pakistan,” he said. “The country is burning, and in this case the weak people, the oppressed, marginalised people, suffer more. Firstly, they are easy victims; secondly they are victims of discrimination due to their faith, and there is caste discrimination too.”
Bhatti said he could not predict how long it would be before his brother’s murderers are brought to justice, but he said that he plans to return in time for the third anniversary of his death.