Pakistan's only Christian cabinet minister, and a staunch opponent of his nation's blasphemy laws, was gunned down Wednesday as he went to work in Islamabad.
Police reportedly found leaflets from the Pakistan Taliban near the scene of Shahbaz Bhatti's assassination saying others who shared Bhatti's view on the blasphemy laws will meet his fate. It's the second assassination of an opponent of the law in two months. In January, a bodyguard for Punjab Governor Salman Taseer opened fire and killed Taseer.
Malik Mumtaz Hussain Qadri immediately confessed, winning a hero's status by saying "this is the punishment for a blasphemer."
The message in Bhatti's assassination is just as chilling. He served as Pakistan's minister for religious minorities.
Last month, he told the Voice of America that he was not deterred by death threats. "This extremism is dangerous for the stability of the country," Bhatti said. "It is the time that the people of different faiths and the Pakistani nation stand united against the forces of intolerance, against the forces of violence. The blasphemy law is being misused to victimize the innocent people of Pakistan."
In a column published by the BBC, Aamer Ahmed Khan wrote that Taseer's murder cowed most opponents of the blasphemy law into silence. But Bhatti continued, despite high odds against any success.
"For the extremists though, it is all about ideology. It didn't matter if Mr Bhatti's battle had proved to be a non-starter or if he was an ineffective and powerless minister," Khan wrote. "What mattered was that he had spoken against blasphemy laws in the past and was likely to do so again if a situation arose. That made him a legitimate target, not to be tolerated, not to be ignored."
Writers see his assassination as further evidence of Pakistan's descent into chaos, and the hopelessness of those working for reform.
Updated 6:20 p.m. March 2:
A bi-partisan group of congressmen met Wednesday afternoon to condemn Bhatti's murder. In a statement, U.S. Rep. Frank Wolf, R-Va., called on the Pakistani government "to give Bhatti a state funeral, reflective of the import of his life and legacy. Similarly, I urge our own government to send a high-ranking delegation to attend the funeral and to carry Bhatti's torch in continuing to press for the repeal of the blasphemy laws in Pakistan."