Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Letter to Shahbaz Bhatti

ShahbazBhatti For several years, we at The Voice of the Martyrs were acquainted with the Pakistani human rights activist, Shahbaz Bhatti. On at least three occasions, he visited us in our headquarters here in Canada and I remember well him sitting across the desk in my present office, sharing his concern and work on behalf of Christians in his homeland. When he was arrested a few years back, we advocated on his behalf and engaged in a couple of projects together.

Earlier this year, Mr, Bhatti was appointed the Minister of Minorities Affairs in the new Pakistani government. I remember being concerned at the time. An old saying goes, "Keep your friends close and your enemies closer." I was concerned that Shahbaz would become an apologist for the government, promoted into silence or worse, into becoming a voice of propaganda.

I was saddened to read today of a recent press release from his department where Bhatti told a delegation of church leaders on Saturday, among other things, that minorities in Pakistan are enjoying equal opportunities under the new government. The following is a letter that I wrote to my old colleague expressing my concern:

Dear Mr. Bhatti,

Greetings from Canada. I remember well your visits to my office in past years. I was always impressed by your passion to better the condition of Christians in Pakistan.

I was disappointed to read your recent press release in which you state that religious minorities are enjoying equal opportunities in Pakistan. This is not the tune you sang not that very long ago when you were not in the government. As you know, many Christians continue to suffer discrimination, imprisonment, and attacks because of their faith. This is not equal opportunity. We both know that the Prime Minister is not a miracle worker and things have not improved so dramatically in such a short time.

I was afraid that, upon entering the halls of power, your voice would be silenced. I am saddened that it has not been. At least silence would be better than speaking things that we both know are not true. I urge you to resign your post and take up the mantle of speaking on behalf of persecuted Christians as was your best destiny. In your present position, you are only serving as an instrument to justify the status quo or, perhaps worse, overstating miniscule improvements.

Glenn Penner
Chief Executive Officer
The Voice of the Martyrs (Canada)

Now some will probably write and tell me that this is the way government works and that, at least, Shahbaz is trying to make some sort of contribution. I understand this, but this reflects the tension that Christians face when they enter politics. When one's commitment to the party requires you to compromise your commitment to the truth, isn't the price too high?

I urge you to write to Mr. Bhatti and urge him to be more proactive in addressing, admitting, and speaking out on continuing inequalities being suffered by Pakistani Christians.