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By John Newton

12 March 2012

Crowds thronged Trafalgar Square on Saturday at a concert calling for religious freedom in Pakistan – and remembering Shahbaz Bhatti who gave his life for that cause.

 

Catholic pop band ooberfuse perform their single in memory of Shahbaz Bhatti in Trafalgar Square

Catholic pop band ooberfuse perform their single in memory of Shahbaz Bhatti in Trafalgar Square

The concert in Trafalgar Square on 10th March followed the presentation of a petition at 10 Downing Street calling for changes to Pakistan\\\\\\\'s blasphemy laws, which impose sentences including execution and life imprisonment for offences against Islam.

The documents bearing the names of more than 6,000 people were presented at Number 10 by an ecumenical delegation which included Alan Craig of the Christian Peoples Alliance and John Pontifex from Aid to the Church in Need.

Mr Pontifex, who met Shahbaz Bhatti in 2006, said: \\\\\\\"For him, the Christian faith, [and] the freedom to express your religion legitimately without undue let or hindrance, was a cause not just worth fighting for – it was a cause worth dying for.\\\\\\\"

Mr Bhatti, Pakistan\\\\\\\'s first federal minister for minority affairs, was shot dead in March 2011 while travelling to work in Islamabad.

His death followed his involvement in a high-profile campaign calling for pardon for Asia Bibi, Pakistan\\\\\\\'s first woman to be sentenced to death under the country\\\\\\\'s blasphemy laws.

The visit to the Prime Minister\\\\\\\'s residence on Saturday preceded a three-hour concert in Trafalgar Square raising awareness about human rights violations in Pakistan.

Among the acts was Catholic pop group ooberfuse who performed their single Blood Cries Out, about the murder of Shahbaz Bhatti.

The song was released on 2nd March 2012, the first anniversary of his assassination. Watch the video below.

Speakers at the rally included Imam Dr Hargey of the Oxford Islamic Congregation, Reformist Muslim activist Irtshad Manji and Ranbir Singh of the Hindu Human Rights Movement.

Tributes to Shahbaz Bhatti from Cardinal Keith Patrick O\\\\\\\'Brien, the Archbishop of St Andrews and Edinburgh, and Bishop Declan Lang of Clifton, chairman of the International Affairs department of the Catholic Bishops\\\\\\\' Conference of England and Wales, were also read out at the rally.

Sending his blessing to the gathered assembly Cardinal O\\\\\\\'Brien said: \\\\\\\"I add my voice to yours calling for real justice for Christians and other religious minorities in Pakistan who have been accused of blasphemy.\\\\\\\"

He added: \\\\\\\"Shahbaz Bhatti was truly a witness, a martyr, and may we also have the courage to testify to what we believe in our own lives as he did.\\\\\\\"

In his message to those gathered for the rally, Bishop Lang wrote: \\\\\\\"Shahbaz Bhatti had a vision for a more tolerant society, formed by his own deep faith. His heroic witness serves as an inspiration and a challenge to us all.\\\\\\\"

Also performing at the event was up-and-coming dancer and choreographer Eliot Smith, who is in his final year studying at the London Contemporary Dance School. He performed a piece called \\\\\\\'Of Gods and Men\\\\\\\' which he created for Aid to the Church in Need, linking the suffering of persecuted Christians to the trials Jesus himself endured. Watch an excerpt of Eliot\\\\\\\'s performance below.

The event was organised by the British Pakistani Christian Association in conjunction with Aid to the Church in Need.

Organiser and British Pakistani Christian Association chairman Wilson Chowdhry said: \\\\\\\"This was a coming together of academics, humanitarians and politicians from across the globe unified in their condemnation of the suffering minorities in the Islamic world.

\\\\\\\"Shahbaz Bhatti\\\\\\\'s death has galvanised Pakistan\\\\\\\'s minorities who have held various memorials and global protests to mark the anniversary of his assassination – 27 bullets were unable to stop his legacy of peace which has now spread across the globe.\\\\\\\"

 

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Shahbaz Bhatti was elected to the National Assembly of Pakistan in 2008 and named Federal Minister for Minorities a portfolio he accepted because of the opportunity it offered to defend the oppressed and marginalized of Pakistan.

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