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Monday, 11 January 2010

BPCA audience with Green Party's Jean Lambert MEP for London

From left to right Gerald Sunny, MEP Jean Lambert, Dr Mujeeb Chowdhry, Wilson Chowdhry (Alex Chowdhry taking photograph).

Ratified minutes for our meeting with Jean Lambert MEP (South Asian delegate for the European Union) - 18th December 2009. See previous report (here)
The Blasphemy Law:

Alex Chowdhry led with a brief introduction to the Blasphemy Law, Jean was familiar with this piece of Pakistani legislation. Jean was aware of our petition for the either the universal application of the Blasphemy Law to provide protection to people of all faiths or for its abrogation in its entirety. Jean agreed to take this up with the new Pakistani Ambassador to the EU who had only been in place for 4 days. Jean also advised that the European Parliament has passed resolutions which have raised the question of freedom of belief in Pakistan.

Statutory Reforms (Police and Council)

We moved onto the subject of statutory sector reform within the Pakistani context esp. the way in which the Police Force and local Councils interact with the Christian minority. Alex Chowdhry explained why it is important that the Punjab Provincial Assembly particularly be held accountable for the atrocities against Christians for their failure to proactively work against this form of discrimination within their Province quoting major incidents such as; Gojra, Sumbrial and Korian. Alex Chowdhry also gave a brief explanation of the Federal and Provincial structure within Pakistan and the need for work both with the Federal and Provincial structure of government.

Wilson believed the quotient of minority employees in the Police and local, provincial and National level is below what it should be. Wilson suggested that a regulatory body consisting of an appropriate level of empowered minority members could induce more effective and valid decisions within the investigation of blasphemy allegations. Wilson also suggested that any failure to meet an appropriate standard or practice, within the investigation blasphemy incidents and other crimes, should be met with stiffer disciplinary practice – to deter the high level of abuse or insouciance in recent times.

Jean Lambert informed us that this could be tied to funding currently being given to the Pakistani authorities - use of EU monies to help support the development of independent and effective civil institutions, such as the police and judiciary. The person responsible for this would be Baroness (Cathy) Ashton: she is the new so-called High Representative for Foreign Affairs of the EU and also a member of the European Commission. We are actively seeking an audience with Baroness Ashton.

Reform of the Ulema Council:

Alex Chowdhry queried the impunity of the Ulema Council. Too often in Pakistan rumour is being cascaded amongst local populaces via the public address systems on Mosques. Alex suggested that some measures be taken to restrict the level of output from such public addresses, especially those that could be incite communities leading to the civilian attacks such as the one at Gojra.

Wilson suggested that a regulatory body and some legislation be introduced to prevent such abuses. He also suggested that the government work with Mosque organisations to set up an appropriate code of conduct.

Joint Electorate:

The conversation then moved onto the joint electorate system and possible ways of reforming this for the benefit of Pakistani minorities.

Alex suggested that political parties become responsible for the selection of their own minority candidates, in juxtaposition to the existing protected national quotas for minorities. The basis for his premise was the lack of empowerment or influence mandatory positions, hold for those elected in this fashion.

Wilson suggested increasing of the percentage of minority candidates by undertaking an uncorrupted census. Figures regarding the actual demographics of minority communities in Pakistan are limited, archaic, vary and believed to be incorrect.

All agreed a review of the existing census information was imperative this would allow correct allocation of recently ratified, positive discrimination objectives.

Wilson queried the existing census process. He intimated a wish that minority groups and paid minority employees be utilised within the data retrieval and planning process.

Quota System:

This led on to a further discussion of the quota system that had been announced by the Pakistani Government for jobs within the statutory sector. Particularly what evidence could be garnered about the numbers of roles that would be in senior positions within those institutions? All agreed that data on applications and success rates should be extrapolated and plotted to ensure that the process was fair. Accountability and traceability were key topics of this discussion.

Educational and Employment Reform

Discussion developed around the field of education particularly as this was a high international priority. Wilson also asked that the level of literacy in Pakistan be tackled in a more substantial way. The fact that over 50% of Pakistanis are illiterate and only 7% of Christians in Pakistan meet the minimum standard, is a poor indictment of the emphasis that education is given in Pakistan.

Jean explained that the EU had already endorsed a package of benefits to the Pakistani Government for the improvement of education.

Wilson was concerned at the potential misdirection of funds and asked that strong auditing practices measuring accountability and traceability be introduced. Moreover that minority groups in Pakistan be involved in the audit trail.

Dr Mujeeb Chowdhry made some helpful contributions to the discussion within the field of education. He raised concern about the nationalisation of formerly Christian Schools. This process had eradicated many of the significant discounts that were given to the poor Christian minorities. Could nationalised funding not continue without the removal of this much needed flexibility?

Dr Mujeeb Chowdhry also suggested that the Government funding be allocated towards the introduction of Christian theology qualifications. This provide an alternative or an addition to the existing undergraduate and post graduate courses in Islamic theology.

Wilson Chowdhry commented on the compulsory Islamic education already taught within schools and colleges and suggested that this be removed for a more universal, broader Religious Education. This would provide an opportunity for people to understand the similarities between faiths and not just the differences. Moreover there are many Minority faith parents who refuse to send their children to schools due to imposition of Islamic studies, in the Christian community of Pakistan this has led to only a 7% of literacy within our faith group.

Wilson also suggested that better information on employment rights be shared with all communities. Minority faith groups and Muslims are all subjected to the worst possible conditions. More fervent regulatory action is required with stiffer penalties for breaches of the law, if we are to reduce abuses.

Asylum Seeker provisions in the UK:

Gerald Sunny asked for more accountability and fairness within the Asylum Seeker provision in the UK. He felt that the British Government did not pace an appropriate level of priority on cases resulting from religious persecution. The intensity of violence and abuse on minority groups is increasing. Yet those who manage to escape to the safety receive no succour and are sent back into a dangerous environment. Many chose to take their own lives others have been killed in acts of vengeance.

Wilson suggested that a process of engagement with Pakistan’s government or the concerned individuals should ensue. This would provide a level of safety to those deported, instigate better protection practices from the Government. If nothing else, such research would at least, provide effective monitoring data regarding the validity of the decision to decline the original asylum application.

Jean agreed that a process of evaluating the safety of deportees would be a useful tool and that the protection of "all it’s people" a priority for all Nation states. She agreed to discuss this at her next meeting at the EU.

Freedom of Religion or no religion:

Finally there was some discussion of the persecution faced by those who had left Islam to become Christians and the lack of protection afforded them by the government especially as freedom of religion is something enshrined within the Constitution and the UN Declaration of Human Rights which Pakistan has signed up to. The existing Apostasy Law in Pakistan prevents such freedom and although not often used communities, take their own action against those who convert. Statutory authorities are slow or reticent to react to use incidents.

Additionally Alex Chowdhry also raised the persecution faced by Muslims who converted to Christianity within the British context. He asked that a Europe-wide agenda based on consultation with all faiths or those with no faith, be adopted to improve the conditions of these vulnerable people.


  1. It appears to be an excellent presentation at an excellent opportunity with an excellent member of the European Parliament. Hopefully, clear and forcefull message will be conveyed to the governemnt of Pakistan both from the UK government and Eroupean Parliament. It will be good to know how it is going to be received and what measures the government of Pakistan would introduce to ensure that events of past doesn't repeat anywhere in Pakistan.

  2. Congratulations on getting through so many talking points with the High Commissioner. It is excellent that you have the support of Jean Lambert.
    Much of what you talked about rings a bell with the Jews of the Middle East - for instance, the way mosque public address systems are exploited to spread rumours and incite violence is exactly what used to happen - and still does.