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Thursday, 23 June 2011

Full transcript of Lord Alton's question and ensuing debate at House of Lords

M.A.Jinnah - Pakistan's Founder, who called for a State which respected and protected its minorities and gave them equal rights.

Shahbaz Bhatti - Pakistan's Murdered Minister For Minorities

Many of you will be aware of our work with Lord Alton who posed a question in the House of Lords yesterday, calling for advocacy for religious minorities in Pakistan.

We hope as a consequence of his question that awareness of the oppression that minorities face in Pakistan, will become wider knowledge.  It is essential that we profit from Lord Alton's strong stance and support for all minorities and I again call on people of all faiths to join our peace rally on the 2nd July:

Moreover, please contact your local MP's, and call for more action in pursuing a change in the current human right breaches exhibited in Pakistan.  Pray for God's protection of persecuted people wherever they may be.

Lord Alton emailed us a full transcript of the ensuing debate from yesterdays question:


Pakistan: Religious Minorities


3 pm

Asked by Lord Alton of Liverpool

To ask Her Majesty's Government what advocacy the Foreign Office is undertaking on behalf of persecuted religious minorities in Pakistan.

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Lord Howell of Guildford): My Lords, we engage regularly with the authorities in Pakistan on issues of religious freedom. Most recently, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, my honourable

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friend Mr Burt, discussed religious freedom with the newly appointed Pakistan Prime Minister's Advisor on Interfaith Harmony and Minority Affairs. He also met religious leaders from across Pakistan as part of the Ministry's Interfaith Council. Ministers and our High Commission in Islamabad will continue to maintain regular contact.

Lord Alton of Liverpool: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. However, what does the abject failure of the authorities in Pakistan to bring to justice those who were responsible for the brutal murder of Salman Taseer, the Governor of Punjab, and of Shahbaz Bhatti, the courageous Minister for Minorities, say about their commitment to uphold the rule of law and to protect minorities? Is not impunity for murder, forced conversion, rape, forced marriage, the denial of civil rights and the failure to protect Ahmadis, Sufis, Shias, Christians, Hindus, and others, directly linked to the rise of the Taliban in Pakistan? Does it not point to the crucial importance of returning to the original vision of Muhammad Ali Jinnah, the founder of Pakistan, who insisted on upholding the rights of minorities, saying that they should have a full place in Pakistan society?

Lord Howell of Guildford: My Lords, the noble Lord has set out a grim and very telling catalogue. The events he has described are appalling, particularly the recent murders and the apparent support by some members of the public in Pakistan for those who may even have carried out these atrocities. These are very worrying matters that we raise again and again with our friends and the authorities in Pakistan. We see Pakistan as a country to which we are bound by longstanding ties, but also a country where we must put forward our values in a strong and effective way. I have to say to the noble Lord that no one can be happy about this pattern of affairs, or with the advance in extremism around the country, no doubt encouraged by apparent aspects of impunity. All these matters are constantly in our minds and constantly in the way that we are developing our relationship with Pakistan, a great nation that needs certain help and support at this difficult time.

Lord Elton: My Lords, as the minority groups in Pakistan number some 14 million people, of whom around 3 million are Christian, this is a major problem. Can the Minister confirm that 1.2 million people living in this country are of Pakistani origin, and that this form of violence has now been exported here, particularly in relation to the Ahmadi population? Perhaps it is worth mentioning what the noble Lord, Lord Alton, did not say. In his speech, Jinnah said:

"Minorities ... will be safeguarded. Their religion, faith or belief will be secure. There will be no interference of any kind with their freedom of worship".

Lord Howell of Guildford: My noble friend is right, as was the noble Lord, Lord Alton, to remind us of the original qualities and values which the founders of the state of Pakistan, and obviously Mr Jinnah himself, put forward. In the present situation we want to try to maintain, deepen and, in some cases, resurrect these

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things. As to our own direct links with Pakistan, I am told that there are 1 million British citizens in this country with family connections in Pakistan. Believe it or not, the number of visits and journeys undertaken between this country and Pakistan each year amounts to 1.4 million. So our ties are close, which puts us in a position where we have responsibility and, I hope, credibility and some authority in dealing with our Pakistani friends.

Lord Ahmed: My Lords, is the Minister aware that Articles 20, 21, 22, 26 and 27 of the Pakistan constitution guarantee rights for all minorities? Does he agree that the rights of all citizens, regardless of their religion or group, should be protected? Pakistan is at war with extremists and terrorists, and since expressing its support for Operation Enduring Freedom, has lost some 34,000 citizens. Is not the right approach that of supporting Pakistan's institutions and its democratic Government, as Her Majesty's Government are already doing? It is better to support friends when they are in difficulties rather than kicking them when they are down.

Lord Howell of Guildford: The noble Lord is correct. No one questions the fact that Pakistan is facing fearful challenges of all kinds, one of which is its contiguity to Afghanistan and the challenges of extremism. Taliban operations are just one example of many pressures on Pakistani society. Of course we must approach these matters in a supportive mood, but we must also uphold our values. The fact is that, for instance, the blasphemy legislation is part of the Pakistan penal code. We have raised the issue of that kind of legislation by pointing to some of the tensions and excitements it generates. We would like to see a pattern where that kind of regulation, along with the attitudes and terms it generates, is less prominent. That might lead to some reduction in the violence and the apparent readiness of some people to commit acts of terrible atrocity, particularly the two murders just mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Alton.

Lord Avebury: My Lords, can my noble friend say whether the Prime Minister himself has made any representations to President Ali Zardari to provide adequate protection for Ahmadi Muslims, who have been subject to multiple assassinations and incessant persecution fuelled by the Khatme Nabuwat, who openly incite to murder in leaflets and public speeches? Will the Prime Minister take up with Zardari the denial of voting rights to Ahmadis by requiring them to make a sworn statement contradicting an article of their faith in order to be included on the electoral register?

Lord Howell of Guildford: My right honourable friend the Prime Minister was in Pakistan only a few months ago and certainly made representations on all aspects of human rights and religious persecution in Pakistan, and I think that his views were very well received. Specifically on the Ahmaddiyya, we meet regularly with representatives of the Ahmaddiyya community to listen to their concerns. Most recently Mr Burt, whom I have already mentioned, and my noble friend Lady Warsi met representatives of minority religious groups to discuss freedom in Pakistan. About

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a month ago, my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary publicly condemned the Lahore attacks on the Ahmaddiyya community. We are well aware of these pressures and we dislike them, as does my noble friend. We continue to raise these issues as vigorously as we can.


Written Questions June 23rd 2011.

Lord Alton of Liverpool to ask Her Majesty’s Government whether they have asked the President of Pakistan to consider a presidential pardon in the case of Aasia Bibi. HL10427

Lord Alton of Liverpool to ask Her Majesty’s Government what representations they have made to the government of Pakistan about the 2002 executive order which denied four million Ahmadiyya Muslims the right to vote, unless they are willing to sign a declaration denouncing their own community. HL10428

Lord Alton of Liverpool to ask Her Majesty’s Government what representations they have made to the government of Pakistan about violence against the Ahmadiyya Muslims; and what assessment they have made of the threats and intimidation against that community in the United Kingdom. HL10429

Lord Alton of Liverpool to ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the likelihood of the government of Pakistan ratifying the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, and signing both the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the Convention against Torture. HL10430


Article for ahead of House of Lords Question on the plight of Pakistan’s minorities, June 22nd 2011: Question to be raised by Crossbench Peer, Lord Alton of Liverpool.

In 1947, Muhammad Ali Jinnah gave a speech to the New Delhi Press Club, setting out the basis on which the new State of Pakistan was to be founded. In it, he forcefully defended the right of minorities to be protected and to have their beliefs respected:

“Minorities, to whichever community they may belong, will be safeguarded. Their religion, faith or belief will be secure. There will be no interference of any kind with their freedom of worship. They will have their protection with regard to their religion, faith, their life and their culture. They will be, in all respects, the citizens of Pakistan without any distinction of caste and creed.”

These words are a forgotten aspiration in today’s Pakistan where minorities, ranging from Ahmadis to Sikhs, from Christians to Hindus, Buddhists and Zoroastrians, face relentless violence and profound discrimination.

It is estimated that, of a population of over 172 million people, at least 4% of the population come from the minorities: in 2011 the Pakistan Hindu Council put the number of Hindus alone at 5.5% – some 7 million people, while there are almost 3 million Christians, and Pakistan’s Ahmadiyya community is 4 million strong. All of these minorities have suffered grievously, along with those caught up in the sectarian violence between Sunni and Shi’a Muslims.

Jinnah rightly declared that the Government of Pakistan has a duty to protect all of its citizens, regardless of their beliefs or origins. The international community ought to be asking how the State today honours that pledge.

Take the Ahmadis.

One year ago, in two separate attacks in Lahore, 98 Ahmadis were murdered and many more injured while they were at Friday prayers. The vicious brutality of these attacks is magnified when considering the Ahmadis’ belief: “love for all and hatred for none.”

Sadly, too few share the same passion for tolerance.

While the Ahmadis consider themselves Muslim and follow all Islamic rituals, in 1974 the State declared them to be non-Muslim and, in 1984, they were legally barred from proselytising or identifying themselves as Muslims. Unless they renounce their beliefs Ahmadis are disenfranchised from elections and have to dishonestly describe their religious affiliation to obtain a passport.

Ali Dayan Hassan of Human Rights Watch believes that Ahmadis had thus become “easy targets” for militant Sunni groups who behave with impunity believing they have the full authority of the State in declaring Ahmadis to be infidels. Despite repeated attacks on the Ahmadis no prosecution of perpetrators has occurred in the past 15 years. And the situation is set to get worse. Earlier this month, on June 11th, The Asian Human Rights Commission issued a statement that “extremists openly plan to kill hundreds of Ahmadis while the government turns a blind eye.”

Last year Terrorism Monitor warned that:

“As the Pakistani Taliban are trying to spread their war on the Pakistani State, they are likely to continue to target minorities like the Ahmadis in their efforts to create instability.”

On March 29th of this year that threat was brutally and graphically underlined by the murder of Pakistan’s Minister for Minority Affairs, Mr.Shahbaz Bhatti. An advocate of reform of the country’s Blasphemy Law – the cause of many bogus prosecutions against non Muslims – he was gunned down by self described Taliban assassins as he left his Islamabad home. His murderers scattered pamphlets describing him as a “Christian infidel”. The leaflets were signed Taliban al-Qaida Punjab.”

Shahbaz Bhatti’s death is the second high profile killing this year of someone asking for changes to Pakistan’s laws and greater protection for its minorities.

The Foreign Secretary, William Hague, said that Bhatti’s death “is a tragic loss for Pakistan and for all people who believe in human rights and freedom of speech.” Alistair Burt, Minister for South Asia, added that he had supported Mr.Bhatti’s “in his difficult role and in his attempts to revise his country’s Blasphemy Laws. Those laws have been used to target minorities.”

Minister Bhatti’s death was not isolated incidents.

As terrorism and instability has intensified, so have the deaths. Over 35,000 people have died in attacks since 2003; 2,522 fatalities in the first six months of 2011 alone. And, on the day of writing this, a report from Peshwar detailed the deaths of 34 more people, with over 100 badly injured.

Meanwhile, forced conversions to Islam, rape, and forced marriage are increasingly commonplace.

Take the case of Sidra Bibi.

She is a 14 year old Christian living in the district of Sheikhupura in Punjab, and the daughter of a worker in the cotton industry. She was molested, abducted, raped and threatened her with death. Physically and psychologically abused, she became pregnant. Police have refused to accept her complaint.

Samina Ayub, is also a Christian. Aged 17, she lives with her family near Lahore. Kidnapped, forcibly converted to Islam, renamed Fatima Bibi, she was coerced into marrying in the Muslim rite. Her family reported the abduction but police have not prosecuted those responsible.

Attacks have also been made on places and books sacred to those with minority beliefs. The radical Islamist party, Jamiat ulema-e-Islam recently filed an application to the Supreme Court to ban the circulation of the Bible, describing it as “blasphemous” and “pornographic”

Such intolerance and such virulent attacks pose a grave threat to Pakistan, to the region, but, also, to the UK, where around 1.2 million British citizens of Pakistani descent now reside.

Unlike the authorities who have such a lamentable record in protecting their citizens, Pakistan’s own citizens clearly understand from where the threat to their security originates. In an independent survey 90% cited religious extremism as the greatest threat to the country: which is why we have a duty to speak out for these vulnerable and preyed upon minorities, especially in the aftermath of the killing of Osama bin Laden, since when intolerant violence has intensified.

The former Foreign Secretary, David Miliband commented that: “It is when the international community has taken its eye off the ball in Pakistan that instability has increased…Internally, Pakistan has a duty to protect minority groups and needs the support of its allies to do so.”

Those words are in complete accord with Jinnah’s 1947 Declaration promising tolerance, respect and security for the new country’s minorities – a vision that needs to be reinserted into the political mainstream. In 2011 the grievous plight of Pakistan’s minorities is inextricably bound to its destiny as a nation.

David Alton
(Professor Lord Alton of Liverpool)
House of Lords,

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