(Photo: AP Images / B.K. Bangash)
The funeral mass of minister for minorities Shahbaz Bhatti drew high-profile figures, but notably absent from the event were Pakistan President Asif Zardari and opposition leaders.
Mourners paid their last respect to Bhatti on Friday at Islamabad’s main church, Fatima Church, amid high security. Police and security forces blocked cars from coming near the church before the ceremony began for the only Christian cabinet member who was assassinated Wednesday for opposing the blasphemy laws. Those who entered the church were subjected to being searched by metal detectors, according to Agence France-Presse.
Among the crowd at the memorial were Bhatti’s family members, some members of the cabinet, government officials and diplomats.
Although President Zardari did not attend the mass, he is said to rarely make public appearances due to fear of being assassinated. The top leaders of the opposition party, the Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz, also did not attend.
But the U.S. Ambassador to Pakistan Cameron Munter was at the memorial.
During the one hour ceremony, Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani spoke to the audience of about 1,000 people.
“Today is a very sad day, I consider it a black day. We are mourning the death of Shahbaz Bhatti. It’s a great loss to the nation. He was working for inter-faith harmony," he said.
“We will do our utmost to bring the culprits to justice."
Gilani also said Bhatti was gentle, humble and devoted to helping the country’s religious minorities.
“People like him, they are very rare,” Gilani said, according to Pakistan’s the Dawn newspaper. “All the minorities have lost a great leader.”
The prime minister has announced three days of mourning for the minister.
Bhatti’s brother, Peter, said, “Bhatti struggled to help the poor. All our family members will struggle to fulfill his cause,” according to AFP.
Father Rehmat Hakim of Fatima Church called the murder "unfortunate for the Christian community."
"It has spread insecurity," he lamented.
Christians hung a banner on the street in honor of Bhatti that read, “We strongly condemn the murder of Shahbaz Bhatti, the protagonist of truth and religious harmony.”
Bhatti is the second high-level government official to be murdered within the past three months for opposing Pakistan’s blasphemy laws and fighting for the release of Asia Bibi, a Christian woman who was sentenced to death under the blasphemy laws for allegedly speaking ill of the Muslim prophet Muhammad.
In January, Punjab Gov. Salman Taseeer, a Muslim, was killed by his own bodyguard for criticizing the blasphemy laws.
Al Qaeda and the Pakistani Taliban have claimed responsibility for killing the Christian minister.
Bhatti’s body was flown by helicopter to his village of Khushpur after the ceremony. The coffin was greeted by about 1,500 people, according to Dawn newspaper.
Those who greeted the coffin shouted, “Bhatti, your blood will bring a revolution!”
Earlier on Friday, hundreds of women marched with black flags in Khushpur demanding the murderers be captured and hanged. According to Dawn, they beat their chest and cried in front of Bhatti’s family home where a large portrait of him stood.