Bhatti Murder Case in Pakistan Increasingly Murky
Lax investigation, possible cover-up mar attempt at justice.
By Murad Khan
ISLAMABAD, Pakistan, May 25 (MPBS24/7 Compass Direct News) â€“ The investigation into the murder of Pakistanâ€™s only cabinet-level Christian, Shahbaz Bhatti, has become mired amid suspicions of a possible cover-up, sources said.
Lax investigations, a series of freed suspects and lack of coordination across law enforcement organizations have stalled the case following the March 2, 2011 slaying of the federal minister for Minority Affairs, they said. A trial court in the garrison town of Rawalpindi this month exonerated yet another suspect arrested for his alleged role in the murder.
Rana Masood Akhtar, special judge in Anti-terrorism Court II, freed Ziaur Rehman after an investigating officer told the court that he was no longer wanted in the case due to lack of evidence. Bhattiâ€™s family cited business disputes between Rehman and Bhatti as their reason for suspecting Rehman.
In February police had dropped investigations into another suspect, Abid Malik for lack of evidence. At first, Rehman had fled, managing to escape when police arrested Malik from Lahoreâ€™s Allama Iqbal International Airport.
Bhattiâ€™s brother, Paul Bhatti, said the family is not satisfied with the police investigation and authoritiesâ€™ low level of interest in bringing the perpetrators to justice.
â€śWe thought Ziaur Rehmanâ€™s arrest would lead us to the killers of my brother, because the police had obtained an international arrest warrant based on evidence,â€ť he said. â€śI donâ€™t understand why they issued the request [for an Interpol warrant] if they did not have sufficient evidence.â€ť
Bhattiâ€™s All Pakistan Minorities Alliance has also condemned inaction and lack of seriousness of government authorities.
In June 2011, a trial court released Hafiz Nazar Muhammad for lack of evidence after arresting him for having made threatening calls to Bhatti from Sargodha.
Bhatti was an outspoken critic of the countryâ€™s widely condemned â€śblasphemyâ€ť laws. At the scene of Bhattiâ€™s murder, police recovered a leaflet, presumably left by the attackers, asserting that they had killed him for raising his voice against the blasphemy laws.
Officially, police claim that the Taliban were behind the murder, while Interior Minister Rehman Malik has put the blame on militant group Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan.
The assailants sprayed 25 to 30 bullets at Bhattiâ€™s car after he came out of his motherâ€™s home in a residential area of the Pakistani capital to attend a meeting of the federal cabinet. The federal government had provided bodyguards for Bhatti, but they were not present at the time of the attack.
The murder came two months after Punjab Gov. Salman Taseer was killed by his bodyguard for supporting Asia Noreen (also known as Asia Bibi), the first Christian woman sentenced to death in Pakistan on blasphemy charges. Bhatti had defied death threats after the Jan. 4 assassination of Taseer, conceding in several interviews that he was â€śthe highest target right nowâ€ť but vowing to continue his work and trusting his life to God.
â€śShahbaz Bhattiâ€™s murder is no ordinary case,â€ť said Napolean Qayyum, who belongs to the Pakistan Peopleâ€™s Party, as Bhatti did. â€śHe represented the minorities in the highest forums of government, was a prominent member of a minority religious community himself and was very vocal against the blasphemy laws.â€ť
He said there was some indication that officials were hesitating to publicize their assessments of the case.
â€śBut given its high-profile nature, it is important that they share the truth,â€ť he said.