Clement Shahbaz Bhatti was born in Lahore on 9 September 1968 to Catholic parents. His father, Jacob Bhatti, served first in the army and then as a teacher, before becoming president of the church council in Khushpur.
While still a student, Bhatti founded the Pakistan Christian Liberation Front in 1985 and in 2002 he was unanimously elected as chairman of the All Pakistan Minorities Alliance (APMA) when he also joined the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP).
However, Shahbaz remained out of politics until 2008, when he was elected minister for minority affairs, a post that was elevated to cabinet level for the first time that year with the creation of an independent ministry. During his tenure as federal minister, Bhatti took numerous measures in support of religious minorities. These included launching a national campaign to promote interreligious harmony, proposing legislation to ban incitement to hatred and related literature, introducing comparative religion as a curricular subject, introducing quotas for religious minorities in government posts and reserving four seats in the Senate for minorities. Bhatti also led the organisation of the National Interfaith Consultation, which brought together senior religious leaders of all faiths from all over Pakistan and resulted in a joint declaration against terrorism.
Shahbaz Bhatti said that he accepted the charge of this ministry for the sake of the ‘oppressed, downtrodden and marginalised’ of Pakistan, having dedicated his life to the ‘struggle for human equality, social justice, religious freedom and to uplifting and empowering religious minority communities’. Openly engaged in the struggle to reform the country’s blasphemy laws, Shahbaz wanted to send ‘a message of hope to the disappointed, disillusioned and despairing people’.
In 2009, Shahbaz Bhatti openly supported Pakistani Christians who were attacked during the riots in Gojra, Punjab province, and was threatened with death for this. These threats became increasingly frequent following his support for Asia Bibi, a Pakistani Christian sentenced to death in 2010 for blasphemy.
Shahbaz Bhatti was killed in Islamabad on the morning of 2 March 2011 on his way to work.
Bhatti himself predicted his death and recorded a video, where he said: ‘I believe in Jesus Christ who gave his life for us, and I am ready to die for a cause. I live for my community … and I will die to defend their rights. ”
The Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan group claimed his killing and called him a blasphemer of Muhammad.
On 5 April 2011, during a prayer vigil in his memory, presided over by Bishop Joseph Coutts, bishop of Faisalabad, the minister’s home diocese, Brother Paul handed over Shahbaz Bhatti’s Bible to the Basilica of St Bartholomew’s Island, Memorial of the Martyrs of the 20th and 21st Centuries.
In March 2016, five years after his death, the cause of beatification was formally opened by the Catholic diocese of Islamabad-Rawalpindi.