London: all faiths join protest against Pakistan's blasphemy laws

People of all faiths and none will be taking part in a protest march in London against Pakistan's notorious blasphemy laws on Saturday, 2 July. The march will call for a change to Pakistan's blasphemy laws which have been cited as the cause of 14 separate attacks on Christians over the last two months.

Aid to the Church in Need UK director Neville Kyrke-Smith will be among those handing in a petition at 10 Downing Street asking the British government to put pressure on Pakistan to amend the laws and step up action to protect the rights of religious minorities.

Mr Kyrke-Smith said: "Blasphemy for us is just a word – for Christians and all people in Pakistan the accusation of blasphemy can lead to death."

The charity's petition calls for protection for religious minorities who are often the victims of violence carried out by those who take the law into their hands and accuse them of blasphemy.

Mr Kyrke-Smith stressed the widespread abuse of the blasphemy laws and said the Pakistan government should change them in a bid to root out mob violence.

The blasphemy laws refer to sections 295B and 295C of the penal code which imposes severe penalties for offences against Islam. Desecration of the Qur'an is liable to a sentence of life imprisonment and insults against the Prophet Mohammed are punishable with execution.

Mr Kyrke-Smith said: "This is a crucial issue and we appeal to anyone of faith to consider signing the petition to appeal for tolerance and reform of the blasphemy laws which are like a curse on all people in Pakistan."

Calling on the charity's benefactors to support the petition he added: "Sign for freedom and protection of religious minorities... you will be helping the Christian and other communities who suffer intolerance and persecution due to the present blasphemy laws."

Aid to the Church in Need UK's head of press and information, John Pontifex, who has travelled widely in Pakistan on fact-finding and project-assessment work, is one of the speakers lined up for the day's event.

He described how the charity's decision to participate in the event came after receiving backing from senior Catholic bishops in Pakistan.

He said: "What is important for everyone – especially the Church in Pakistan – is that this shouldn't be seen as just a Christian issue – everyone is affected. At least 50 Christians have been killed and many more injured over the last decade in connection with the laws.

"The legislation is also linked to the suffering of people of other faiths – including many Muslims – who are the victims of blasphemy law-related violence and intimidation."

The march on 2 July is being organised by Wilson Chowdhry and the British Pakistani Christian Association of which he is chairman. The event begins at 11am at the Pakistani High Commission in Lowndes Square, London, where a petition will be submitted.

Speeches will take place with representatives from Christian organisations and those of other faiths. Among those giving addresses will be Dr Michael Nazir Ali, former Anglican Bishop of Rochester and the Rev Stuart Windsor, national director of Christian Solidarity Worldwide.

Speakers from non-Christian groups include Upkar Rai of the British Sikh Council, Ranbir Singh of the Hindu Human Rights Group and Imam Dr Hargey of the Oxford Islamic Congregation.

After the speeches the march gets underway heading towards Downing Street. On arrival, there will be more speeches after which the petition will be handed in to No 10.

To sign Aid to the Church in Need's petition see:

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