Pakistan: Call for laws against religious discrimination

Sacred Heart Cathedral, Lahore

Sacred Heart Cathedral, Lahore

Source: UCAN/ICN

As the Islamic Republic of Pakistan marked its annual Minorities Day on Friday, Christian human rights organizations demanded a law to punish acts of religious discrimination.

"A law should be passed that provides a definition, grounds for persecution and punishment for acts of discrimination, particularly on the basis of religion and belief, in order to give effect to freedoms and equality guaranteed in articles 20 and 25 of the constitution," states a resolution passed at a convention held in Lahore to mark National Minorities Day on 11 August.

Six civil society organizations, including the Pakistani Catholic Bishops’ National Commission for Justice and Peace, jointly organized the event titled "Celebrating religious diversity in Pakistan."

"Provisions in the Constitution of Pakistan that are incompatible with fundamental rights given in the constitution should be amended to remove conceptual inconsistencies about equality of rights among citizens," said the resolution.

More than 400 participants, including priests and nuns, raised their hands endorsing the resolution that was read out at the conclusion of the convention.

Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi pledged that his government will fulfill the promise made to the non-Muslim Pakistanis by the country’s founder Muhammad Ali Jinnah on 11 August 1947 to protect religious minorities.

"We will make Pakistan such a tolerable society where basic rights of every citizen are protected and where all Pakistanis, whether they are Muslims or non-Muslims work collectively for progress and prosperity of the country," Prime Minister Abbasi said in a statement.

11 August was declared Minorities Day in 2009 by the then minorities minister Shahbaz Bhatti who was shot dead in the capital Islamabad in 2011.

Christians and Hindus are minorities in the mostly-Muslim country of about 200 million people. Both religious groups have long faced discrimination. Between 1987 and 2014, 1,300 people of all faiths in Pakistan have been accused of blasphemy - the penalty for which ranges from fines to death. But more than 60 people have been murdered as a result of blasphemy allegations even before they came to trial.

A number of Christians sentenced to death for blasphemy have been languishing in prison for years. Among them is Asia Bibi, an illiterate Christian mother of four whose crime was to drink from a Muslim well. Several politicians and lawyers who defended her have been killed. Her family is in hiding and campaigners fear that if Asia is ever freed, she wil never be safe in Pakistan.

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