BANGALORE, India (RNS/ENInews) Christian schools across Pakistan shut down on Thursday (March 3) for a three-day protest of the assassination of the country’s Minister for Religious Minorities.
The call for the action came at an ecumenical meeting chaired by Archbishop Lawrence Saldana, president of the Catholic Bishops Conference of Pakistan.
Church leaders said if Pakistan becomes a “killing field” of people “who exercise their freedom of conscience and expression,” then “criminals trying to take charge of the country” will be emboldened.
The church leaders also declared Sunday a day of prayer and fasting to mark the murder on Wednesday of Shahbaz Bhatti, the government’s sole Christian minister.
A critic of Pakistan’s blasphemy law, which makes criticism of the Prophet Muhammad a capital crime in the Muslim-majority nation, Bhatti last November initiated a clemency petition for Asia Bibi, a Christian woman currently in prison on blasphemy charges.
“My life is under threat. I am getting threat calls regularly,” Bhatti told ENInews in an interview last November. In January, another high-ranking government official, Punjab Governor Salman Taseer, was killed after he criticized the blasphemy law.
Saldana told ENInews, “We salute the courage of Shahbaz who knowingly put his life in danger by speaking up boldly against the blasphemy law. We decided to close all the institutions to honor his sacrifice.”
Victor Azariah, general secretary of the National Council of Churches in Pakistan, told ENInews that “words cannot describe our feelings. We are stunned.”