Peter Bhatti, brother of Pakistan’s first and only Christian Federal Minister who was assassinated for opposing Pakistan’s blasphemy laws and Chairman of the non-profit International Christian Voice, addresses the 12th Annual Geneva Summit for Human Rights and Democracy — see quotes below, followed by the full prepared remarks.
On Pakistan’s persecution of Christians:
“Those accused of blasphemy face the threat of being killed even before their case is registered. Those who are imprisoned face the death penalty.”
“If somebody is falsely accused of blasphemy. The people do not wait for justice, they want to take revenge for themselves.”
“The mobs want to kill whole areas. Whole Christian colonies are being burned. There is no safe place remaining in the country.”
On Asia Bibi case:
“Despite a lack of evidence, Asia Bibi was dragged and attacked by mobs, taken into custody, and spent the next nine years on death row in a Pakistani prison.”
On brother Shahbaz Bhatti who was assassinated:
“My beloved brother Shahbaz Bhatti was the only person who publicly challenged Pakistan’s discriminatory laws, despite facing threats to his life.”
“On March 2, 2011, Shahbaz was assassinated, paying the ultimate price. His killers left a message that anyone who speaks against Pakistan’s laws will suffer the same fate. Who will speak up now?”
“He is no longer with us today, but he has left behind an example for all peace-seeking people to follow: to be bold, to be principled, and to be determined in our pursuit for justice and equality for all.”
Thank you for inviting me, a small player in the global effort to end religious persecution.
Pakistan was created in 1947 as a progressive and democratic state. Christians, Hindus, Sikhs, and other religious minorities played a vital role in the establishment of Pakistan and greatly contributed to its development and growth.
Unfortunately, shortly after Pakistan achieved independence, extremists took control over the country’s political and justice systems and introduced discriminatory laws into the constitution in the name of religion. These blasphemy laws created a vacuum in which democracy and the rule of law were replaced by radical ideologies.
Today, these laws are being widely misused and abused. They have become a major tool in oppressing and marginalizing religious minority communities who make up roughly 5% of Pakistan’s total population.
Most allegations in criminal cases of blasphemy are based on personal and economic disputes or religious and social differences. Those accused of blasphemy face the threat of being killed even before their case is registered. Those who are imprisoned face the death penalty.
Asia Bibi, a Christian mother of five, was sentenced to death in 2009 after a dispute with her Muslim co-workers led to allegations that she had insulted their religion to drink water in same cup which her coworker drink. Despite a lack of evidence, Asia Bibi was dragged and attacked by mobs, taken into custody, and spent the next nine years on death row in a Pakistani prison. She was finally acquitted of these false charges in 2018, and we are thankful to the Pakistani and Canadian governments who assisted with her release and settlement in Canada.
Also, in 2009, false accusations of blasphemy on a Christian in the city of Gojra led to riots in which thousands gathered and set fire to all Christian houses, resulting in seven members of one family being burnt alive in their home.
Another horrific case was that of Shama and Shahzad Masih, a poor, young Christian couple who, while seeking release from bonded labor, were accused of blasphemy and burnt alive in a brick kiln. Shama was pregnant with her fourth child, and the couple left behind their three young children.
Forced conversions are also a major challenge facing Pakistan’s religious minorities. According to the Aurat Foundation, about 1,000 non-Muslim girls are forcibly converted to Islam every year. These women and girls are kidnapped, raped, forcibly converted to Islam and married to Muslim men. They are typically 12 to 18 years old.
My beloved brother Shahbaz Bhatti dedicated his entire life to raising awareness about the plight of Pakistan’s persecuted religious minorities. He was the only person who publicly challenged Pakistan’s discriminatory laws, despite facing threats to his life. He believed in and fought for the vision upon which Pakistan was founded — of democracy, equality, and the rule of law for all citizens of Pakistan.
In 2009 he was appointed as Pakistan’s first-ever Minister for Minorities’ Affairs and was the only Christian Cabinet Minister in Pakistan’s history.
My brother Shahbaz led an international campaign to amend Pakistan’s discriminatory laws. He brought the world’s attention to the deep injustices and severe oppression that Pakistan’s religious minorities face daily. But this did not come without a cost.
On March 2nd, 2011, my brother Shahbaz was assassinated, paying the ultimate price. His killers left a message that anyone who speaks against Pakistan’s laws will suffer the same fate. This has led many people to ask: who will speak up now?
My answer was creating International Christian Voice, a Canadian nonprofit human rights organization raising awareness about the persecution of religious minorities. It is a voice for those who are oppressed and victimized due to their faith, especially in Pakistan.
Today, ICV assists thousands of Pakistanis who have fled their homes and are seeking refuge in neighboring countries such as Thailand, Malaysia, and Sri Lanka. When their temporary visas expire, asylum seekers are arrested and put in horrible prison-like detention centers. Some languish in these IDCs for years. Families are separated, and the sick and dying receive no medical treatment.
ICV privately sponsors such refugees to Canada and assists with their settlement and integration by providing them with necessities and social support services. We work with like-minded organizations for the support of these helpless asylum seekers and to provide them with a new life of freedom and peace.
In the spirit of my brother’s legacy, and on the heels of the upcoming UN Human Rights Council session, the international community must work together, with Pakistan, to:
- Open educational and vocational schools in religious minority communities.
- Eliminate prejudiced material from public school’s syllabus and ban hate speech.
- Promote interfaith harmony to change the mindset of those who have been brainwashed by radical ideologies.
- Amend legislation and policy to stop forced conversions and discriminatory laws.
- Assistance with the settlement of Pakistani asylum seekers and refugees.
- Identify and partner with progressive Pakistani human rights organizations who stand for equal rights and justice.
My brother was one of the very few individuals throughout history who had the courage to call out abuses of fundamental freedoms and human rights in Pakistan. He was a true champion of democracy and the rule of law. And, he firmly believed that through a united stance against injustice, our world could be a better place.
He understood that freedom and peace come from struggle and sacrifice. He ultimately sacrificed his life to bring awareness to the severe challenges being faced by Pakistan’s minority communities.
Although he is no longer with us today, he has left behind an example for all peace-seeking people to follow: to be bold, to be principled, and to be determined in our pursuit for justice and equality for all.
May we all follow his legacy and courageously take on the challenge to stand against abuses of human rights, to be a voice for the voiceless, and to ensure that every citizen of every nation in this world is free from violence and oppression.
12th Annual Geneva Summit for Human Rights and Democracy, UN Opening, Monday, February 17, 2020
On his brother:
“My brother Shahbaz was assassinated. He was the first and only Christian minister in the Pakistani government.”
On helping persecuted Christians in Pakistan:
“I created the non-profit International Christian Voice to raise awareness about persecution of Christian minorities. So far, we have helped 50 families to come to Canada.”
“We believe that the fundamental right of every human is to practice faith without fear.”