Shahbaz Bhatti, Pakistan's federal minister for minorities and that government's only Christian, was assassinated yesterday on the streets of Islamabad. Bloomberg News is reporting that the Pakistan Taliban is claiming responsibility for the shooting:
As many as four men ambushed Shahbaz Bhatti, a 42-year-old Christian, yesterday as he left home without a security escort, Geo television reported, citing a police official, Bin Yamin. Bhatti was dead when brought to the city’s Al-Shifa Hospital, the institution’s spokesman, Azmatullah Quraishi, said by telephone.
Television channels showed leaflets found at the scene in which the Pakistani Taliban claimed responsibility for killing Bhatti. They said he was targeted for heading a government- appointed committee to review the blasphemy law, which prescribes the death penalty for anyone convicted of insulting the Prophet Muhammad.
Bhatti, a Roman Catholic and former leader of Pakistan’s main minority-rights group, was killed eight weeks after Salman Taseer, governor of Pakistan’s Punjab province, was shot to death by one of his bodyguards. Both men had called publicly for changes to the [nation's blasphemy] law.
While the Bhatti assassination story made the front page of today's New York Times, the broadcast networks have only briefly touched on the development.
A Nexis search revealed no stories on last night's evening newscasts for ABC, CBS, or NBC, although there were news desk briefings from ABC's Juju Chang and NBC's Ann Curry on the March 2 "Good Morning America" and "Today" show respectively (adapted from Nexis transcripts):
JUJU CHANG: Overseas now, a cold-blooded assassination on the streets of Pakistan's capital this morning.The only Christian member of the country's cabinet was shot in his car by men apparently upset that he had opposed the death penalty for people who insult Islam.
ANN CURRY: Pakistan's minority affairs minister was killed in Islamabad this morning. Gunmen opened fire on Shahbaz Bhatti's car. Bhatti is a member of that country's Christian minority and had recently called for the national blasphemy law to be changed.
The CBS "Early Show" was a little slow on the draw, doing a anchor briefing on the story this morning:
JEFF GLOR: In Pakistan, assassins killed the country's highest ranking Christian official, Shahbaz Bhatti. Pamphlets left near Bhatti's bullet-riddled car said it was the work of al Qaeda and the Taliban. Like another official murdered in January, Bhatti opposed a Pakistani blasphemy law imposing the death penalty for insulting Islam.
Back in January, network newscasts similarly gave little coverage to the murder of Punjab province governor Salman Taseer.
From the January 4 "Evening News":
KATIE COURIC: Also overseas, Pakistan is facing a new crisis. One of the president`s close allies was assassinated today in Islamabad. Salman Taseer, a provincial governor and a leading moderate, was shot in the back 26 times. One of his own bodyguards told interrogators he did it because Taseer opposed the death penalty for those who insult Islam.
From the January 5 "Today":
ANN CURRY, anchor: Also in the news this morning, police are on high alert in Pakistan after today's funeral for a provincial governor who was assassinated Tuesday by one of his own bodyguards. Officials say that Governor Salman Taseer was targeted because he was a moderate opposed to Islamic extremism.
Since then, the Washington Post noted this morning, every major Pakistan official save for Bhatti had backed away from calls to reform Pakistan's blasphemy law:
The assassination came as a severe blow to Pakistani liberals, who are increasingly being silenced by Muslim hard-liners willing to use violence against those who do not share their views. Bhatti's death removed one of the few leaders still openly advocating the reform of laws that make insulting Islam a capital crime - a stance that Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gillani and other politicians disowned after the governor of Punjab province was killed in January.
The governor, Salman Taseer, had also argued for changes to the laws, which he and Bhatti said were used as tools to settle vendettas and persecute members of religious minorities. The Pakistani news media and a broad spectrum of clerics have repeatedly turned that characterization around, equating its proponents with blasphemers.
For his part, MSNBC's newest daytime host, Martin Bashir, capably explained yesterday why the murders of Taseer and Bhatti and the grip of Islamic extremism are of utmost important to Americans and U.S. foreign policy:
MARTIN BASHIR: It's time now to clear the air. And there was a murder yesterday that you may have missed. It didn't involve a drug dealer nor was it a case of domestic violence. No, this killing took place because of one man's personal faith. He was, until yesterday, the only Christian in the Pakistan government, and his role had been to defend the rights of religious minorities. Witnesses say Mr. Shahbaz Bhatti was pulled from his car and then shot eight times at point-blank range. But, he knew his life was in danger and spoke out about it in a video recording just a few weeks ago.
SHAHBAZ BHATTI: The Taliban threaten, but I want to share that I believe in Jesus Christ, who has given his own life for us.
BASHIR: Now, I know that Christians are urged to turn the other cheek and not pay evil with evil, but Christian theology is not just about mercy and forgiveness, there are plenty of biblical references to justice. Pakistan is now the third largest recipient of aid from the United States, receiving more than one and a half billion dollars a year in non-military support. And, so, if we have any leverage at all, the Pakistan government must be called upon to act immediately, to bring those responsible to justice and to condemn this appalling attack upon an honorable man. If they do so, then maybe his death, though tragic and wasteful, will not have been in vain.
Photo above by Anjum Naveed for the AP. Accessible here.