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Friday 30 September 2011

Asylum Seeker rejected on spurious grounds - Part 3 'Objective' considerations of police and legal systems - conclusion

This is the image of young Shazia Bashir, who suffered beatings, and was raped by her employer (who failed to pay for her domestic labour) most assume (from image) she was under 12 years of age.  Police autopsy's originally indicated she was 10 years old, the figure altered to 14 years of age in  a later report. The minimum age for employment in Pakistan is 14... 

Another issue in considering asylum applications is the legal system and the protection it can provide to persecuted people. In this area the rejection reasoning is woefully inadequate and demonstrates a fundamental ignorance of the situation and a very biased selection of the relevant facts. For instance, it makes much that the police have been trained by various Human Rights NGO’s but that is irrelevant to the practice on the ground. It is true that there have been a few pleasing outbreaks of professionalism amongst police in these kinds of cases, but they are still all too rare. In addition, the NGO’s were concerned with general human rights for prisoners, or in dealing with child sex abuses. Worthy stuff, but not particularly applicable to religious issues. Even more to the point, the fact remains that the police reflect Pakistani society, which is for the most part hostile to Christianity – and not just the ‘extremist’ groups. Even if particular policemen are disposed to act fairly, they can and often do face overwhelming pressure from Muslim leaders and the mobs they stir up from the Mosques and /or wealthy and influential local politicians and businessmen who are sometimes the perpetrators of the crimes, particularly against Christian domestic servants and young girls.

The BA cites the ruling of a judge in a previous case in 1999 (Horvath vs Secretary of State - Horvath IATRF 99-0179-4) to justify their decision in regard to Christians and the Pakistani justice system. The relevant paragraph in the ruling (on determining how to apply criteria to do with asylum cases and the justice system) reads :

In my judgment there must be in force in the country in question a criminal law which makes the violent attacks by the persecutors punishable by sentences commensurate with the gravity of the crimes. The victims as a class must not be exempt from the protection of the law. There must be a reasonable willingness by the law enforcement agencies, that is to say the police and courts to detect, prosecute and punish offenders. It must be remembered that inefficiency and incompetence is not the same as unwillingness, unless it is extreme and widespread. There may be many reasons why criminals are not brought to justice including lack of admissible evidence even where the best endeavours are made; they are not always convicted because of the high standard of proof required, and the desire to protect the rights of accused persons. Moreover, the existence of some policemen who are corrupt or sympathetic to the criminals, or some judges who are weak in the control of the court or in sentencing, does not mean that the state is unwilling to afford protection. It will require cogent evidence that the state which is able to afford protection is unwilling to do so, especially in the case of a democracy.

Now while technically in some regards this may be true of Pakistan – that Christians are not exempt from the protection of the law as a class – in practice it is not, as we have seen. There is systematic bias and discrimination against Christians as a class because they are Christians, and successful prosecutions against attackers of Christians are very few indeed (disregarding the fact that most victims don’t go to the police anyway). The report claims that according to ‘objective standards’ the asylum seeker should be able to get protection from the police, but quite frankly, the facts say otherwise. For instance, in Karachi, the police recently beat a Christian who had already been left for dead by extremists. Also in Karachi, the police are often little more than private militias for various political parties and are complicit in many murders, attacks and human rights abuses. Police corruption is rife, and charities on the ground working with street children say 60% of them have been sexually abused by policemen at some point.

Pakistan may have democratic elements, but it is primarily a theocracy in which Islam is the national faith, and the President and Prime Minister can only be Muslims. In the recent case of Gujrunwala where a jealous Muslim man burnt a Koran and left the remains in a Christian graveyard to try and incriminate Christians (massive riots and attacks on Christian buildings ensued), the perpetrator was never tried for blasphemy, whereas if the evidence had pointed (or was deemed to have pointed) to a Christian, the result would have been very different. And no-one was prosecuted for the attacks on the Christian community. This example is the rule, not the exception.

The martyred Christian government Minister Shahbaz Bhatti was refused armoured vehicles and other protective measures in the lead up to his assassination by the Pakistani cabinet, despite sustained and credible death threats. His elimination meant the last remaining voice for minorities was silenced, and many Pakistani’s feel the cabinet stripped him of protection for precisely this reason. Those involved in his assassination were interviewed and set free to flee to a foreign country. Before him Governor Taseer was killed for standing up for Christians, and just last month his son was kidnapped and is still missing. If the police can’t / won’t protect such high profile individuals as these, both Muslim and Christian, what hope do ordinary Pakistani Christians like this asylum seeker have for protection? We submit that the above (very small) sampling of the facts and reality on the ground in Pakistan gives very cogent evidence that the state of Pakistan is unable / unwilling to afford protection to Christians as a class.

So, as we have seen the BA significantly underestimates the professionalism of the police as a whole in Pakistan, especially in regards to Christians. The BA considers that ‘Pakistan has a properly constituted and well structured police force who focus on training and developing their constables..... Whilst it is accepted that certain elements of the police remain unreliable, it cannot be said that this reflects the authorities as a whole. [It can and has and is being said – by us – with lots of reports to the contrary!] .. There is no evidence that the Pakistani authorities would wish to harm you or deny you protection....’ Given the number of cases where Christians are dying in prison after false blasphemy charges, beaten by the police, etc, there is every evidence that at the least the authorities are not able / willing to protect Christians fully. The BA has it the wrong way round – while there are a few welcome examples of greater professionalism in the police in regard to Christian protection, as a whole the situation is ‘unreliable’ for Christians. Police face huge pressures to let perpetrators go free and to harass or punish or obstruct victims as they seek justice. The BA letter cites various facts and figures about the police to justify their assertions but a lot of it is very vague, suggesting no real data in support. In fact Janes Sentinel Country Risk Assessment can’t even provide figures for the number of police in Pakistan, which suggests poor record keeping and unprofessionalism. The report mentions as an avenue of appeal in Pakistan the District / Public safety commission, but no stats or information is provided, suggesting to BPCA that they are an ineffective body little used by citizens unaware of their existence – or knowing they would not get much joy from them.

The BA report then goes on to say that the asylum seeker can and should have sought refuge by relocating to another area of the country. But that ignores the systematic discrimination in Pakistani society, and the fact that oppression of Christians is not confined to particular areas. We have reported on attacks and abuse from every single area of the country. Where could this man go to be free of the discrimination and be able to find work? He carries his ID card which indicates he is a Christian, and as soon as that is seen, many will discriminate against him in employment, education and travel, and use it to identify him for attacks. The BA wish to send him back – can they guarantee that he will be able to get a job with this kind of prejudice? In this day and age there are effective communication devices called mobile phones and internet and email which mean that extremist groups in one area of Pakistan can easily supply details of targets to those in other areas!

In closing, just last year there was there were riots in which two pastors accused of blasphemy were shot dead, and further tensions – and this was in the asylum seekers home town. This asylum seeker has worked for many Christian organisations in Pakistan and has been participating very actively in church and religious activities. He has strong fears of threats, torture and persecution not only towards him but his family as well. BPCA asks the immigration and asylum tribunal to consider carefully whether it really is fair to send this man back to his home.

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