Marta Petrosillo, ACN Italy
Adapted by Robert Lalonde, ACN Canada
“I have not run away at all. I love my country and I will be in Pakistan for the third anniversary of the death of my brother.” The words are those of Paul Bhatti, in an interview last monday morning with the Italian national office of the international Catholic pastoral charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN). He denies the newspaper allegations that claim he is in Italy because of the recent threats against his life.
As Special Adviser for the Religious Minorities to the Pakistani prime minister and president of the All Pakistan Minorities’ Alliance, he is currently in Italy in fulfilment of certain undertakings agreed previously and will be returning to Pakistan next week. However, since last Saturday some Pakistani tabloids have been claiming that he has sought refuge in Pakistan for fear of possible attacks on his life. “It is true that I have received threats”, he explained to ACN. “But this is nothing new. These attempts at intimidation will not prevent me from continuing my work.”
Ever since he decided to continue the work of his brother Shahbaz, the Minorities’ Minister assassinated on 2 March 2011, Paul Bhatti has received more than a few such “warnings”, but he has never thought of abandoning the Christians of Pakistan. “To run away now would mean an end to the mission of Shahbaz – a cause to which he dedicated his entire life and for which he was killed. Moreover, it would mean leaving my country, which I love dearly.” Following the “martyrdom” of his brother, Paul decided to leave Italy, where he had been living for some years, in order to carry on the legacy of the murdered Minorities’ Minister.
Paul Bhatti is not afraid for his own life, but if anything he is more concerned for that of his family members. For the threats were directed against his family too. Following the assassination of Shahbaz, one of his sisters and their mother Marta were forced to take refuge in Canada, where his brother Peter had already been living for some time. But another of his brothers, Sikandar, is still living in Khushpur, the village where they were born, in the district of Faisalabad.
What does concern Bhatti however, are the threats received by some of the eyewitnesses to the murder of his brother Shahbaz and by the legal team representing his family, who have instituted legal proceedings. “I have appealed to the Pakistani government to protect these witnesses and our lawyer”, he explained to ACN. “The authorities have promised me that they will supply the necessary protection, so that nothing can compromise the legal proceedings over the murder of my brother.”
In a few days time Paul will be returning to Pakistan, where he will be participating in a number of different events in memory of Shahbaz Bhatti, organised to mark the third anniversary of his death, and where he will also continue his own work in defence of the religious minorities. It is a task that last year brought about the acquittal of Rimsha Masih, the 14-year-old mentally retarded girl accused of blasphemy. Paul attributed this victory to the invaluable work of his brother. “I am continuing his mission, which he created, and helping it to grow. And if we achieve results, then the success is his alone.”