Thursday, 2 February 2012

Remembering Pakistan's Christian Peacemaker

By John Newton
A peace concert and rally in London will mark the first anniversary of the assassination of Pakistan politician Shahbaz Bhatti, who was killed after speaking out against the country's blasphemy laws.

The event on Saturday 10 March will commemorate the life and work of Mr Bhatti and will be calling for changes to Pakistan's blasphemy laws, which impose sentences including execution and life imprisonment for offences against Islam.

Mr Bhatti, Pakistan's first federal minister for minority affairs, was shot dead while travelling to work in Islamabad.

His assassination came after he campaigned for Asia Bibi, Pakistan's first woman to be sentenced to death under the blasphemy laws, to be pardoned.

The peace rally will start at 11am with a protest outside the Pakistan High Commission, Lowndes Square, London calling for the abolition of the country's blasphemy laws.

Following the submission of a petition to 10 Downing Street, there will be a concert in Trafalgar Square starting at 3pm.

Those set to speak on the day include Bishop Vahan Hovhanessian, Primate of the Armenian Apostolic Orthodox Church in the UK, Baroness Cox, Matthew Jones from Christian Solidarity Worldwide, and Aid to the Church in Need's John Pontifex.

Mr Pontifex, who met Shahbaz Bhatti during an Aid to the Church in Need project trip to Pakistan said: "Shahbaz died for a cause – the cause of religious freedom.

"This rally is an excellent opportunity for us to follow in the footsteps of Shahbaz and call for justice and freedom."

Prior to his murder on 2 March last year, Mr Bhatti had been the recipient of numerous death threats.

He began receiving these in 2009, after he spoke out in support of Christians who were attacked in Gojra, Punjab province, following accusations of blasphemy, and increased following his public support for Asia Bibi.

The event is being organised by the British Pakistani Christian Association in conjunction with other organisations including the Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need.

Event organiser, and chair of the British Pakistani Christian Association, Wilson Chowdhry said: "With only 8,174 Pakistani Christians in the UK spread across a wide area it is difficult to organise large protests or petitions against the continued attacks on Christians in Pakistan – so we are pleased that so many of our brothers and sisters from other Christian communities will be joining with us on March 10.

"Working with other groups such as Christian Concern and Aid to the Church in Need, has shown us that collaboratively we can achieve much more – and this year we will be joined by Coptic Christians and Armenian Christians who are also suffering from religious persecution.

"People who feel compassion for these affected minorities should join us in calling for UK Government intervention – quite simply, only your presence on 10 March will make this event a success."

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