Pakistani government urged to protect religious minorities

By staff writers
12 Dec 2013

A civil rights group working with Christians in Pakistan has used the commemoration of International Human Rights Day to press for an end to the blasphemy Law and the violation of the rights of religious minorities.

On 10 December 2013, Nasir Saeed, UK co-ordinator for the Centre for Legal Aid, Assistance and Settlement (CLAAS) urged the new government of Pakistan to make serious efforts to improve the present dire situation.

"The worst violation of human rights in Pakistan stems from the abuse of the blasphemy law," he declared.

Since 2008 the number of cases of individuals from minority groups, especially Christians, falsely accused of blasphemy has increased significantly, says CLAAS.

During the the last six months at least six blasphemy cases were registered against Christians, according to the agency.

These cases include that of Dr Robin Sardar for not allowing Mohammad Rafique to open a shoe stall in front of his surgery; the Rev Frank John, for using a loud speaker at a religious gathering; Danish Masih, for refusing to convert to Islam, and Imran Masih and his wife for allegedly damaging an Islamic book.

In other cases, Nargis Bibi’s life was turned upside-down when an angry mob attacked her clinic and accused her of blasphemy, while a 27-year-old, Jagdesh Kumar, was murdered by his factory co-workers.

The blasphemy law ignites religious extremism, feeds intolerance and is open to abuse, says CLAAS.

"The very existence of this law encourages hostility against religious minorities, especially Christians," says Mr Saeed.

"Many Christians in Pakistan today feel insecure and anxious in their own towns, villages and homes, living in fear of being falsely accused of crimes they did not commit by people who might have scores to settle with them."

The blasphemy law provokes hatred and hostility towards religious minorities, say human rights defenders.

Christians in Pakistan are accused by hardline Islamists of being connected to Christians in the West, and therefore of being responsible for the wars and suffering in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere.

"The use of this law promotes religious intolerance," claims Mr Saeed. "Often when one Christian is accused of blaspheming his or her family, friends and even the whole Christian neighbourhood is attacked. In the recent years, several churches and homes have been attacked and set to fire. Even whole villages have been targeted by mobs of angry Muslims.

"I urge the present government of Pakistan, which views itself as liberal, moderate and enlightened, to bring changes to this infamous law and to stop further devastation being wreaked on the country's religious minorities," he concluded.

In August 2013, Human Rights Watch wrote to the office of recently elected Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to take action on such abuses, proposing a series of practical measures for ensuring a wider human rights framework.

"In May Pakistanis went to the polls, effecting an historic transition of power through a constitutional process from one elected government to another, advancing Pakistan’s transition to a genuinely democratic state. Your party has been provided an important opportunity to cement the process begun in 2008 towards creating a rights-respecting government that abides by the rule of law and restores the public’s faith in democratic institutions," wrote Ali Dayan Hasan, Pakistan director of the Asia Division of the global human rights NGO.

He continued: "As you know, many challenges remain before this goal can be reached. We urge you to take concrete steps to protect fundamental civil, political, economic, social, and cultural rights... A proactive human rights agenda is essential for Pakistan’s development.

"We look forward to a constructive relationship with your government and would be pleased to discuss these and other matters of mutual concern with you at any time over the course of your term in office," he concluded.

* Ten steps towards improving human rights in Pakistan (via HRW): http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/node/19654

* Human Rights Watch: http://www.hrw.org/

* CLAAS: http://www.claas.org.uk/

* Ekklesia briefing: Human rights 65 years after the Universal Declaration: http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/node/19635

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