By Stefan J. Bos, Chief International Correspondent BosNewsLife
ROME/ISLAMABAD (BosNewsLife)-- Pakistan's former Minister of National Harmony and Minority Affairs pledged on Tuesday, February 11, to leave Italy and return to Pakistan despite receiving death threats from Islamic militants.
Dr. Paul Bhatti told BosNewsLife he had been in Italy while receiving a threatening letter from groups linked to the 2011 assassination of his younger brother, and fellow Christian, Shahbaz Bhatti, who was minorities minister at the time.
Dr. Bhatti, a 57-year-old trained surgeon, continued his late brother's ministerial work till June 2013 and participated in court hearings against four suspects in the killing, prompting angry reactions from Islamic militants.
"Last week my nephew and my younger daughter saw the letter [with the warning against me]. It was signed by the Tehrik-i-Taliban Punjab and al-Qaida, the same [terror] organizations who left pamphlets on the site where my brother was assassinated," he told BosNewsLife in an interview.
"They clearly said they would never ever allow the mission of Shahbaz to continue. They said they sent him to hell for promoting the Christians ideology and that they will not accept that [ideology] in this country."
Bhatti noted that the letter made clear the militants "fight against those they consider infidels and against the Western world, especially Christians". He said, "They live and die for this struggle. They are not afraid to die or kill until the rule of Shariah law will be in Pakistan. That is the warning [expressed in the letter]."
Bhatti stressed that he takes the threats very seriously as he currently chairs the All Pakistani Minorities Alliance (APMA), a nationwide umbrella group of religious minorities in Pakistan, including Christians.
"This threat is of grave concern. I had to close our office, because I can't provide security for all these people. Young girls and young students are there. We were informed that something could happen so I told them to reduce their movements."
Yet, he said he had decided not to stay away from Pakistan and plans to return within the next few days. "My mom is there, my wife is there, my daughter is there, my brother and his son is there, so we have find ways to survive," he explained.
"I can't leave all my people there in this mess and stay abroad alone. We will see whether the government can provide security. We want basic human rights for everyone, including for Muslims who are suffering under extremists."
Bhatti suggested that Islamic extremists misuse the political and economic instability in Pakistan, where "basic needs of the people are not fulfilled." Bhatti added that the Christian minority is especially a target for persecution amid growing Islamic extremism. "Nobody is safe in Pakistan..."
He also expressed concern about controversial blasphemy legislation that "led to the detention of innocent victims", many of them Christians, for allegedly making derogatory remarks about Islam and its prophet Mohammad.
The veteran human rights fighter said militants create an atmosphere of hatred towards minorities. "Thousands of children are brainwashed. We have to consider how to block hatred material targeting the schools."Bhatti claims he isn't thinking of returning as a government minister, yet. However "I would love to continye religious harmony work in Pakistan.
(BosNewsLife, the first truly independent news agency covering persecuted Christians, is 'Breaking the News for Compassionate Professionals' since 2004).
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