Changes to Pakistan’s religious minorities ministry could aid persecutors

Shabbaz Bhatti Pakistan 3 CNA World Catholic News 3 2 11 The late Shahbaz Bhatti

The Pakistan government’s plan to abolish its national Ministry for Religious Minorities risks giving a “green light” to persecution and could eliminate the legacy of slain Catholic minorities minister Shahbaz Bhatti, Church sources in the country say.

“We are disappointed and saddened,” a Lahore priest told Fides news agency about a proposal to split the ministry into provincial divisions. “Thus the rights of Christians will be put further into obscurity and disappear from the national political agenda. We will be even more helpless. For the fundamentalists this will be a 'green light' to new aggression, violence and persecution against Christians.”

Unless there are last-minute changes, the Pakistan government plans the move as part of a “devolution” effort that will begin July 1. The government has said the moves will provide provincial autonomy.

Other ministries involved are the health, environment, sports, food and agriculture, women’s development, and labor and manpower, the Associated Press of Pakistan reports.

One unidentified source in Pakistani politics said that the measure will remove issues about minority rights from the agenda of the central government.

“So this kills the late Minister Shahbaz Bhatti a second time: the first was his physical elimination, the second is to eliminate his project and his political legacy, on which he had dedicated so much time,” the source told Fides.

Ackram Gill, a Catholic who is the present Minister of State for Minorities, has vigorously protested the abolition. He has led a delegation of parliamentarians and politicians in a meeting with Prime Minister Raza Gilani. He has also organized a protest outside of Parliament.

The plan has also faced strong opposition from the Permanent Committee of the Pakistani Parliament for Minority Affairs, and Christians and Hindus have also organized press conferences and public meetings calling for a reconsideration of the decentralization measure.

The project to eliminate the department was already a factor in the reorganization of Pakistan’s cabinet announced in February 2011. However, Bhatti had forestalled that proposal and had obtained strong support from U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

Bhatti was murdered by Islamic extremists on March 2. He had received death threats from extremists angered by his opposition to the nation’s strict anti-blasphemy law, which prevents any public criticism of Islam or its prophet Muhammad.

Islamabad police are seriously considering closing the case for lack of evidence, but Gill has demanded the formation of a judicial commission to investigate Bhatti’s murder.

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