‘I’m Following the Cross’: Why Shahbaz Bhatti Died Defending Asia Bibi

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Ten years after Pakistan’s highest Christian official was martyred, religious freedom advocates apply his life’s lessons.

“Shahbaz is dead.” I received the shocking news 10 years ago this week, as I stared out my kitchen window into a cold March morning. Shahbaz Bhatti was known worldwide as a courageous Christian voice for religious freedom in Pakistan. And I knew him as my friend.

Shahbaz lived an exemplary life, daily demonstrating heroic love of neighbor, speaking out for victimized religious groups in his home country. The only Christian in the Pakistani prime minister’s cabinet, he did not shy away from denouncing persecution. For this, the forces of darkness assassinated him on March 2, 2011, hoping to silence him and terrify others.

The question for those of us who remain: “How do we carry on his legacy?”

Pakistan was and is a dangerous country for Christians and other religious minorities. Government laws victimize, and violent religious extremists strike with impunity. Open Doors ranks it the fifth worst country in the world for Christians. Ten years ago, it was equally dismal.

Yet Shahbaz tirelessly advocated for the persecuted, be they his fellow Christians or members of other communities such as Hindus, Ahmadi Muslims, Shia Muslims, atheists, or Sunni Muslims standing up to extremists. He was fearless, speaking out on their behalf, carrying his small candle into dark places to shine a light.

Politically savvy, Shahbaz was appointed by then-President Ali Zardari to his cabinet, making him the only Christian federal official at the time. When Asia Bibi was sentenced to death in November 2010 over bogus blasphemy charges, Shahbaz threw himself into her cause. Advocating at every level for her release, he also worked with officials from around the world. I and others like Rep. Frank Wolf connected him with …

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