Speaking against Pakistan's controversial blasphemy law has proved costly for another senior lawmaker. Minorities Minister Shahbaz Bhatti was shot dead by three militants in Islamabad on Wednesday. His death comes a little over a month after Punjab Governor Salman Taseer was assassinated by his own bodyguard for opposing the law. Bhatti was the only Christian minister in the Federal Cabinet.
The killing not only highlights the poor law and order situation in Islamabad, but also proves that fundamentalism is worming its way to Pakistan's major cities from the lawless tribal areas.
Though Bhatti had repeatedly told the government that he had been receiving threats from militants, he was not provided adequate security. The three militants who attacked the minister managed to escape in a car from the scene of the crime.
The militants, who claimed that they were from the Tehrik-e-Taliban Punjab, left some pamphlets besides the lawmaker's body. The leaflets read, "This is the terrible fate of this crusade. With the blessing of Allah, the Mujahideen will send each of the blasphemers to hell."
Pakistan People's Party leader Sherry Rehman had recently introduced a bill in the National Assembly seeking amendments to the controversial blasphemy law. But Rehman had to withdraw the bill under intense pressure from her own party and hard-liners. The PPP leader reportedly received death threats for seeking changes in the law.
Bhatti was a vocal critic of the law and he had supported Rehman's attempts to amend the legislation which awarded the death penalty to those held guilty of criticising Prophet Mohammed.
During an interview, he had once said, "I have been threatened with beheading but I would not be intimidated."
Condemning the killing of Bhatti, Pakistan Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani said, "Such acts will not deter the government's resolve to fight terrorism and extremism. The killers would not go unpunished."
But he pointedly avoided making any comments about the controversial law.