Nephew of assasinated Christian Pakistani cabinet minister makes plea to government and ordinary Canadians
By Kiply Lukan Yaworski
The Prairie Messenger
SASKATOON (CCN)--A Saskatoon Catholic originally from Pakistan is working to raise awareness about the persecution of Christians in that country.
Imtiaz Nadeem Bhatti has been writing to Church and government officials asking for support for persecuted Christians and other religious minorities in Pakistan. He is also working to launch a petition that he hopes to present to the Canadian government, asking Canada to put pressure on Pakistan to repeal blasphemy laws used to seize property and to imprison and kill innocent Christians.
His latest concern involves a petition filed by an Islamic cleric, calling on Pakistan's Supreme Court to ban the Bible.
"The suggestion to ban the Bible is another huge blow against religious freedom and human rights in Pakistan, and puts Christians in ever greater danger," said Nadeem Bhatti.
He describes how some 4,000 persons have been accused under blasphemy laws in Pakistan, including Asia Bibi, a poverty-stricken Christian mother who is in prison and facing a death sentence because another woman in her village accused her of blaspheming against Islam.
Pressure from extremists means that even members of the government dare not oppose the blasphemy laws, Nadeem Bhatti said. For instance, when the governor of Punjab, Salmaan Taseer, a Muslim, spoke out against the blasphemy laws, he was assassinated by his personal bodyguard.
"My own uncle, Shahbaz Bhatti, the only Christian in the cabinet of the government of Pakistan, was assassinated March 2 for his efforts to help the many Christians in that country who are suffering violence and persecution because of their beliefs," he related.
Nadeem Bhatti described how most Christians in Pakistan are poor and powerless, and have no recourse or protection from persecution.
He is hoping that Church and government leaders -- and ordinary Canadians -- will speak up on behalf of the persecuted Christians in Pakistan. He is one of those working to have Pakistan recognized by the United Nations as a source of refugees, so applications from persecuted Christians will be treated with urgency by Canada and other nations.
"I would hope that Catholics and all concerned citizens around the province would add their voices to those across the world who are calling for religious freedom in Pakistan," he said.
"As a worldwide leader in promoting human rights, Canada can bring attention to this situation and hopefully influence the government of Pakistan to protect Christians in that country."
Nadeem Bhatti said that he hopes that parishes in the diocese of Saskatoon will agree to circulate his petition about the issue. He is willing to speak at parishes or before local groups about the situation in Pakistan.
Bishop Donald Bolen said he supports the petition and the work that Nadeem Bhatti is doing to raise awareness and to help the Christian community in Pakistan.
"I invite the parishes and the people of the diocese to put ourselves in the shoes of someone coming from another country, where one's family, friends and faith community are being persecuted," said Bishop Bolen. "Nadeem Bhatti is trying to do everything he can to help the Catholic community in Pakistan at a difficult time. I offer him my support and encouragement in his efforts to make us aware of the events in his homeland, and to engage us as fellow Catholics, here in his new home."