CNS PHOTO | FAISAL MAHMOOD, REUTERS
Shahbaz Bhatti shows a cross that was burned during an attack on a church in Pakistan during a news conference in Islamabad in 2005.
OTTAWA - Shahbaz Bhatti, Pakistan's federal minister for minorities, who was assassinated in Islamabad March 2 for protesting against his countries blasphemy law, said before his death he was ready to lay down his life for God and his nation.
A Roman Catholic and the first Christian to hold a federal cabinet post, Bhatti was in Canada in early February. He told CCN he was a number one target for assassination but was not afraid to give his life.
"He is a great martyr," said Pervez Masih, president of International Christian Voice.
Christian Voice was founded in Canada by Bhatti's older brother Peter Bhatti to engage the Pakistani Christian diaspora in helping their persecuted brothers and sisters at home.
"It is our belief and faith that now he is in the presence of God, with a good crown" for fighting for the rights of the persecuted and voiceless minorities," said Masih. "He was the only man to fight for the Christian people's rights."
"Now I don't know what will happen," he said.
In early February Shahbaz Bhatti told CCN he refused to stop speaking against his country's blasphemy law even though religious extremists had told him he would be beheaded.
"As a Christian, I believe Jesus is my strength," he said. "He has given me a power and wisdom and motivation to serve the suffering humanity."
Bhatti said because Jesus gave his life for others, he wanted to follow his example.
"I follow the principles of my conscience and I am ready to die and sacrifice my life for the principles I believe," he said.
Bhatti was in Ottawa Feb. 7, meeting with cabinet ministers, raising awareness of the need to reform the blasphemy law.
Pakistan's blasphemy law was imposed in 1986 by President General Zia ul Haq who Bhatti said wanted to use religion as a "political tool to divide the Pakistani nation."
Since the law came into effect, hundreds of innocent people, mostly Christians, have been targeted by extremists who use the law to pursue personal vendettas. Many have been subject to extra-judicial killings and attacks on their households, Bhatti said.