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Another politician killed for opposing blasphemy law

Pakistan's minister responsible for protecting minority rights was gunned down last week in Islamabad, seemingly because of his support for reforms to Pakistan's blasphemy law, reports Freedom House.

Shahbaz Bhatti, Pakistan's Federal Minister of Minorities Affairs and the only Christian minister in President Asif Ali Zardari's cabinet, was shot dead by unknown gunmen in Islamabad on 2 March. Pamphlets by extremist Islamic groups found at the scene suggest the motive for the killing was Bhatti's vocal opposition to the country's harsh blasphemy law, says Freedom House.

According to Freedom House, this is the second killing of "a champion of religious freedom." Salman Taseer, the governor of Punjab, was killed in Islamabad on 4 January by a bodyguard who opposed Taseer's criticism of the blasphemy law.

The controversial law carries several draconian provisions, like the death sentence for anyone accused of insulting Islam. Freedom House says the law has been routinely used to settle personal vendettas and persecute minority faith practitioners.

"These heinous murders are further evidence that the government of Pakistan must seriously reform these intolerant laws that violate the fundamental right to free expression and free worship and it absolutely must do more to protect those individuals who advocate this view," said Freedom House.

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