February 17, 2011
On February 11, 2011, the Pakistan government reappointed Mr. Shahbaz Bhatti as Minister for Religious Minorities. Mr. Bhatti’s reappointment came after President Asif Ali Zardari’s cabinet was downsized from 60 to 22 ministers.
Mr. Bhatti, who has served as the Minister for Religious Minorities since November 2008, is the first-ever Christian to hold a Cabinet position in Pakistan. Since his induction, Bhatti has raised a strong voice for the oppressed and persecuted Christians and other religious minorities and has taken a stand against the misuse of the blasphemy law.
During his service, Mr. Bhatti has secured a five percent job quota for minorities in government departments, reserved four seats for minorities in the Senate, and received permission to construct prayer rooms for non-Muslim inmates in all prisons. Furthermore, Christmas has become a national holiday in Pakistan; a Hotline to the Ministry of Minority Affairs has been created; and some 50 regional committees for interfaith harmony have been started; drawing global interest from the Pope, the Archbishop of Canterbury, and the President of the Philippines, among others.
"I as a humble servant of Jesus Christ will continue to serve the suffering, victimized and persecuted communities and am ready to even sacrifice my life to defend the principles of religious freedom, human equality and the rights of minorities," said Mr. Bhatti after his oath-taking ceremony, according to All Pakistan Minorities Alliance.
"I am grateful to everyone who stood by us during challenging times and extended their prayers, solidarity and encouragement."
Mr. Bhatti has also defended the Christian mother, Asia Bibi, who is the first woman to be sentenced to death under the blasphemy law in Pakistan. President Zardari had appointed Mr. Bhatti to investigate the blasphemy charges. After reviewing the matter, Mr. Bhatti had declared Bibi to be innocent.
"We are very grateful that Shabhaz Bhatti has been reappointed to serve as Minister of Religious Minorities. Minister Bhatti has played a vital role in not only helping to protect religious minorities but also in developing key initiatives in building dialogue between Muslims and Christians," Dr. Geoff Tunnicliffe, the CEO of the World Evangelical Alliance, said.
"We believe that Minister Bhatti will continue to build bridges between the various factions within Pakistan. He can count on our full support as he seeks to build a more peaceful and tolerant nation."
The World Evangelical Alliance is made up of 128 national evangelical alliances located in 7 regions and 104 associate member organizations and global networks. The WEA is the world's largest association of evangelical Christians serving a constituency of 600 million people. The WEA is a voice to governments, media, and other faith communities and holds consultative status at the United Nations.