Remembering Pakistan’s Christian Peacemaker

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0127uk.jpgBy John Newton
A PEACE concert and rally in London will mark the first anniversary of the assassination of Pakistan politician Shahbaz Bhatti, who was killed after speaking out against the country’s blasphemy laws.
 The event on Saturday 10th March will commemorate the life and work of Mr Bhatti and will be calling for changes to Pakistan’s blasphemy laws, which impose sentences including execution and life imprisonment for offences against Islam.
Mr Bhatti, Pakistan’s first federal minister for minority affairs, was shot dead while travelling to work in Islamabad. His assassination came after he campaigned for Asia Bibi, Pakistan’s first woman to be sentenced to death under the blasphemy laws, to be pardoned.
The peace rally will start at 11am with a protest outside the Pakistan High Commission, Lowndes Square, London calling for the abolition of the country’s blasphemy laws.
Following the submission of a petition to 10 Downing Street, there will be a concert in Trafalgar Square starting at 3pm.
 Those set to speak on the day include Bishop Vahan Hovhanessian, Primate of the Armenian Apostolic Orthodox Church in the UK, Baroness Cox, Matthew Jones from Christian Solidarity Worldwide, and Aid to the Church in Need’s John Pontifex.
John Pontifex, who met Shahbaz Bhatti during an ACN project trip to Pakistan said: “Shahbaz died for a cause – the cause of religious freedom.
“This rally is an excellent opportunity for us to follow in the footsteps of Shahbaz and call for justice and freedom.”
Prior to his murder on 2nd March last year, Mr Bhatti had been the recipient of numerous death threats.
He began receiving these in 2009, after he spoke out in support of Christians who were attacked in Gojra, Punjab province, following accusations of blasphemy, and increased following his public support for Asia Bibi.
The event is being organised by the British Pakistani Christian Association in conjunction with other organisations including the Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need.
Event organiser, and chair of the British Pakistani Christian Association, Wilson Chowdhry said: “With only 8,174 Pakistani Christians in the UK spread across a wide area it is difficult to organise large protests or petitions against the continued attacks on Christians in Pakistan – so we are pleased that so many of our brothers and sisters from other Christian communities will be joining with us on March 10th.
“Working with other groups such as Christian Concern and Aid to the Church in Need, has shown us that collaboratively we can achieve much more – and this year we will be joined by Coptic Christians and Armenian Christians who are also suffering from religious persecution.
“People who feel compassion for these affected minorities should join us in calling for UK Government intervention – quite simply, only your presence on 10th March will make this event a success.”

Editor’s Notes

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Directly under the Holy See, Aid to the Church in Need supports the faithful wherever they are persecuted, oppressed or in pastoral need. ACN is a Catholic charity – helping to bring Christ to the world through prayer, information and action.

Founded in 1947 by Fr Werenfried van Straaten, whom Pope John Paul II named “An outstanding Apostle of Charity”, the organisation is now at work in about 130 countries throughout the world.

The charity undertakes thousands of projects every year including providing transport for clergy and lay Church workers, construction of church buildings, funding for priests and nuns and help to train seminarians. Since the initiative’s launch in 1979, Aid to the Church in Need’s Child’s Bible – God Speaks to his Children has been translated into 162 languages and 48 million copies have been distributed all over the world.
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