Pakistan Minister Killed
MELISSA BLOCK, Host:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.
MICHELE NORRIS, Host:
In Islamabad today, a brazen assassination of Pakistan's only Christian cabinet member. Shahbaz Bhatti, the country's minister for minorities was gunned down in broad daylight. He is the second prominent critic of the government's harsh blasphemy laws to be assassinated in recent months. Bhatti had received death threats and, several months ago, said they would not deter him.
SHAHBAZ BHATTI: I believe in Jesus Christ, who has given his own life for us. And I'm ready to die for a cause. I'm living for my community and suffering people, and I will die to defend their rights.
NORRIS: And to talk about the story, we're joined now by Declan Walsh. He covers Pakistan for The Guardian newspaper. Welcome to the program.
DECLAN WALSH: Hello.
NORRIS: Can you tell us a little bit more about what happened today with this assassination?
WALSH: And the police are saying that the gunmen fired perhaps 25 bullets and at least eight of which are confirmed to have killed Mr. Bhatti. And he was confirmed dead on arrival at a local hospital.
NORRIS: Do we know anything more about the gunmen?
WALSH: So this isn't a sort of recognized group that we've ever heard of before. But it does suggest that these people are obviously Islamic extremists, and they come from the same sort of ferment of people who've carried out so many other attacks in Pakistan over the last couple of years.
NORRIS: I'm curious about Bhatti's role in government. He was a member of the ruling Pakistan People's Party. And I'm wondering how significant it was that someone of Christian background had risen to this stature in Pakistani politics.
WALSH: So Shahbaz Bhatti certainly was unusual in that respect, in that he was - as the only Christian who was a member of the parliament, he was someone who had also taken that rule very much to heart, if you like. And, in fact, he had been one of three people who'd spoken prominently on the case of Aasia Bibi. That's the Christian woman who was sentenced to death in Pakistan last November, and whose case really started this whole furor off.
NORRIS: One of the other people who spoke out on her behalf was Salman Taseer, the former governor of Pakistan's Punjab Province. For months, the country had been reeling from his assassination. What's the likely fallout from this case?
WALSH: The great danger of course is that this intolerance, that this use of violence against people who speak out, will be extended beyond the blasphemy laws and that it's going to stifle free speech in all the areas of the country. And since Taseer's death we've seen that happening already. We've seen people who normally would be outspoken on a range of issues sort of retracting from public life, and saying that they no longer feel secure in this country because, as they see it, even the government can't protect itself.
NORRIS: Declan Walsh, thank you very much.
WALSH: My pleasure.
NORRIS: I was speaking with Declan Walsh with The Guardian newspaper in Islamabad.
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