The brother of Shahbaz Bhatti, the Pakistan government minister who gave his life for persecuted faith groups, has marked the 10th anniversary of the assassination by saying the situation for Christians and others has not improved.
Speaking to Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), Peter Bhatti said vulnerable faith communities feel increasingly unsafe amid an upsurge in girls abducted and forced to marry and convert as well as Christians and others falsely accused of blasphemy.
Mr Bhatti urged governments in the West to offer asylum to Christian girls in extreme danger such as Maira Shahbaz, whose former abductor continues to make death threats, accusing her of apostasy.
He was speaking exactly a decade on from the 2nd March 2011 assassination of his brother, who was killed while serving as the first-ever federal government minister for minorities, the only Christian in the Pakistan cabinet.
Mr Bhatti, chairman of International Christian Voice, a Canadian-based human rights NGO, said the anniversary of his younger brother’s death was a vital opportunity to call on the Pakistan government to do more to tackle persecution and oppression.
Mr Bhatti added: “The situation of minorities in Pakistan is still not improving despite all the efforts.”
Praising the government for action such as releasing Christian woman Asia Bibi, who was on death row for nearly 10 years, Mr Bhatti said that nonetheless “more work needs to be done”.
He stated: “We will continue to knock on the door asking the government to follow the vision of [Pakistan founder Mohammad Ali Jinnah] of a country open to all people, where everyone’s rights are protected.”
Mr Bhatti added: “My brother’s death reminds us of the call to be a voice against oppression and constitutional discrimination.”
He said asylum was urgently needed for girls such as Maira Shahbaz, abducted aged 14, and now in hiding from her former kidnapper who had married her, forced her to convert and subjected her to sexual abuse. She eventually escaped.
His comments come nearly a month after the UK government received a 12,000-signature ACN petition calling on Prime Minister Boris Johnson to grant Maira asylum.
Mr Bhatti called for action to bring to justice the Christian teenager’s abductor and others guilty of crimes against under-age girls.
He said: “Pakistan needs to take concrete steps to reduce persecution of Christians and other minorities and tackle the widespread poverty that these communities face.”