No one was buying it before. No one is buying it now. The Bishop of Islamabad has called the most recent police statement “absurd.”
Briefly, Pakistani authorities had at least seemed to be trying to look busy, but they are simply moving the plot along in their revised version of the circumstances of Shahbaz Bhatti’s assassination. To change the official story is to attempt to kill him twice, attempting to bury the public memory of him as having died unjustly for a just cause: defending the rights of religious minorities in Pakistan, and demanding justice for the victims of the country’s blasphemy laws.
Authorities would like the discussion of both of those issues, and of Bhatti, to go away. “Assassination of Shahbaz Bhatti: new falsehoods from the police,” by Jibran Khan for Asia News, September 17:
Islamabad (AsiaNews) — Pakistani police are spreading new falsehoods and new doubts about the assassination of Shahbaz Bhatti, the Catholic Minister for Minorities, killed last March 2 by a group of Muslim extremists. Bhatti had long led a fight against the death sentence of Asia Bibi for blasphemy and in defense of religious minorities in his country.
According to the police in Islamabad, the two suspects in the killing, Zia-ur-Rehman and Malik Abid, would be two ex-Christians from Faisalabad, converted to Islam, who allegedly have a property dispute with the Bhatti family. The police have also stated that there is no evidence against them.
This is the second time that police have attempted what is being called a “cover-up”. In August, some Pakistani media reported police statements according to which Shahbaz Bhatti would have been killed over “family disputes” related to some property
Later, the Court of Counterterrorism issued an international arrest warrant against Zia-ur-Rehman and Malik Abid, who after the assassination would have fled to Dubai.
In recent days, the two have been transferred to Pakistan, thanks to Interpol. The Senior Superintendent of Police Operations and the head of the Joint Investigation Team (JIT), however, said that “the suspects are being detained for investigating, they both were allegedly nominated by the Bhatti family, yet it would be too early to comment on their involvement in Bhatti’s assassination as there is no evidence available about their involvement. They are being detained on the basis of doubt, things will get clear once they are interrogated.”
The statements of the police provoked strong reactions and criticism in the Church of Pakistan. Mons. Rufin Anthony, Bishop of Islamabad and a personal friend of Shahbaz Bhatti told AsiaNews that “the statement by the police is totally absurd.”
“If they are not sure about the involvement of the suspects”, he added, “then what are they suspecting them for? Why did the court issue the warrants if the JIT didn’t have any evidence about their involvement?”
For the bishop, there is a suspicion that “the police are defending the culprits, or diverting the direction of the case, arresting some so-called suspects and then gets them released, on the basis of the non-availability of solid evidence for their involvement”. “It is clear”, he continued, “that if there is no evidence against the two suspects, they will be released by the court.”
To Mons. Anthony, it is urgent to set up a serious inquiry committee. “It is about time that the concerned authorities start taking things seriously: as Shahbaz Bhatti’s assassination is not only the assassination of a Federal Minister, it is the assassination of the voice of the voiceless. They have silenced a man, but can never silence his vision, his thoughts and his struggle for the marginalized”.
The prelate’s opinion is also shared by Muslim personalities. An academic Muslim cleric, Maulana Mahfooz Khan, also comments on the police statements: “They are just to divert the direction of the case. How can a vehicle [that of the murderers] disappear from the Federal Capital, where there are security checkpoints on all the entry and exits? Every citizen is stopped and questioned at every security checkpoint, how can a vehicle filled with armed men escape un-noticed by the authorities?”
Mahfooz Khan agrees that a new judicial commission is urgent. “The Government”, he adds, “seems reluctant in taking interest in the assassination of their own Federal Minister, who was slain in broad daylight in Islamabad.”
“Shahbaz Bhatti”, he concludes, “fought for the rights of minorities; his struggle for the interfaith harmony is remarkable.”