Minority affairs minister Shabaz Bhatti was assassinated Wednesday outside his parents' house in Islamabad. Bhatti--Pakistan's only Christian cabinet member--is the second critic of the country's blasphemy laws to be killed this year. Punjab Gov. Salmaan Taseer was murdered in January by Malik Mumtaz Hussain Qadri, a member of his security detail. Qadri told authorities he killed Taseer because the governor considered the country's strict blasphemy law a "black law."
The Washington Post's Karin Brulliard reports the attack on Bhatti was carried out "a small team of gunmen that surrounded and fired dozens of shots at his Toyota sedan as he left home for work." Brulliard notes that "fliers found scattered on the road near the scene bore the names of what appeared to be two Islamist militant groups - the Al-Qaeda Organization and the Pakistani Taliban Punjab." A spokesman for Tehrik-i-Taliban later took credit for the killing in an interview with BBC Urdu, identifying Bhatti as a "known blasphemer of the Prophet" and promising further attacks on "those who speak against the law which punishes those who insult the prophet."
Bhatti, a member of the ruling Pakistan's People Party, said in a Janaury video he had received death threats from al-Qaeda, the Taliban, and bands of militants who sought to impose their "radical philosophy" in Pakistan. In the video, seen below, Shahbaz backed the "campaign against Sharia Law" and "abolishment of blasphemy law" and said he was "ready to die for a cause."
Both Bhatti and the earlier-assassinated Taseer supported November legislation to change the penalty for blasphemy from a mandatory death sentence after a Christian woman named Asia Bibi was "sentenced to death for allegedly making a derogatory comment about the Prophet Mohammed," a charge she denied. In December, Sunni clerics organized a day-long strike across the country to protest the legislation, which would "amend the law by abolishing the death sentence and by strengthening clauses which prevent any chance of a miscarriage of justice."
The attack, writes Time's Aryn Baker, underlines "increasing instability" in Pakistan. "Few people [stood] up to the leaders who misinterpret the Koran for their own ends" before the Bhatti and Taseer assassinations. The threat of violent reprisals means "even less are likely to do so now."