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Shahbaz Bhatti’s murder: An attempt on the parliament’s right to debate legislative issues

04 Mar

PAKISTAN: Pakistan Peace Council terms the murder of Shahbaz Bhatti an attempt on the parliament’s right to debate legislative issues Karachi, March 04, 2011:

The Pakistan Peace Coalition (PPC) strongly condemns the brutal murder of the Federal Minister for Minorities Affairs Shahbaz Bhatti in Islamabad on March 03, 2011. The murder on the pretext of the Minister’s opposition to the contentions of Blasphemy Laws is outrageous and an open challenge to the future stability of Pakistan, a statement issued by the Pakistan Peace Coalition read.

The PPC observed that Minister Bhatti was killed merely two months after the assassination of Governor Punjab Salman Taseer, who too was silenced for his open remarks about the blasphemy laws. “The blame for Shahbaz Bhatti’s murder cannot just be attributed to the government alone. There are serious questions regarding the roles of the political parties, the parliament, the media, the judiciary and the security establishment, all having created an environment where fundamentals related to the right to live, minorities protection, freedom of speech, rule of law, parliament’s right to debate and amend laws are being challenged, and mobs and street forces are being manipulated to take law into their own hands.”

The PPC emphasised that the Blasphemy Laws is an issue for the parliament to debate, and not for the religious forces to decide. They neither have an electoral base nor do they have any relevance in the vision of a progressive national order. Likewise, the judiciary has a responsibility to uphold the sanctity of the constitutional provision of the right to live, freedom of speech and other fundamental constitutional guarantees. Time and again, the religious right has issued open decree inciting masses to murder and threaten the safety and wellbeing of individuals over issues that are a prerogative of the public representatives to decide. The religious forces neither have the electoral mandate nor do they represent a wider section of the population. The concerned authorities’ failure to take note of the series of violations of the rule of law by the religious mobs have made a direct contribution to the murder of Salman Taseer and Shahbaz Bhatti, while the life of another parliamentarian Sherry Rehman remains in danger for the same reason.

Declaring the Minorities Affairs Minister’s murder as another attempt to derail the democratic process, the PPC also criticised the role of progressive political parties in the parliament over the issue of the blasphemy laws. Today’s parliament carries the combination of the most progressive and democratic forces the country has ever had, yet their deafening silence over an issue that has been claiming one life after another is disappointing. We have seen that all those who sought to rationalise the debate on the blasphemy issue, including Gov. Salman Taseer, MNA Sherry Rehman and Minister Shahbaz Bhatti were not only isolated by the state, their fellow public representatives too did nothing to support their stand either in the house of representatives or in the public domain. As a result, we lost two leading lights upholding the right of the minorities. Pakistan’s current parliamentarians need to understand that it is not merely about the blasphemy laws, it is about the Parliament’s right to debate issues in the House that is being challenged. If the Parliament will continue to allow legislative issues discussed and decided on the streets, there are little chances of democratic process to survive in the country.

The PPC observed that Shahbaz Bhatti’s murder took place in spite of the Government’s public assertion, repeated ad nauseam, that it has no intention whatsoever to amend the Blasphemy Law! If the Prime Minister himself rules out any amendment to the law that has blatantly threatened citizens’ protection, and yet a Minorities Affairs Minister is murdered, there are clear signals that people who wish to take over the country would suppress all voices that stand in opposition to their regressive views.

The PPC cautioned that situation similar to 1977 is developing in the country. The recent series of events point to the empowerment of the religious forces by the security stablishment of the country. Various religious parties and sectarian groups seem to have set aside their traditional hatred of each other and are trying to cobble together a politico-religious platform from which to participate in the next elections with a violence-prone agenda of religious extremism. This is nothing short of a national disaster with much graver consequences this time.

Asian Human Rights Commission

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