Thursday, 31 March 2011
The Secretary of State for Foreign & Commonwealth Affairs launched the Human Rights and Democracy: The 2010 Foreign & Commonwealth Office Report today Thursday 31st March 2011 from 10:30 – 11:30 in the Locarno Suite, Foreign & Commonwealth Office, King Charles Street, London SW1A 2AH.
The Foreign Secretary was joined by guest speakers: Dr Agnès Callamard, Executive Director of Article 19 and Maziar Bahari, Iranian-Canadian journalist, playwright and film maker/
The British Pakistani Christian Association were invited to attend and we have been sent a follow up report on Pakistan that can be viewed by all our readers - Pakistan is Highlighted as a Country of Concern with regards to Human Rights:
The 2010 UN Development Index ranked Pakistan at 125 out of 169 countries, down from 112 in 2008. Global indices relating to gender, children’s rights and corruption showed Pakistan near the bottom. Women and vulnerable groups faced legal discrimination and high levels of abuse and violence. Weaknesses in the rule of law,along with a dysfunctional criminal justice system, restricted access to justice for the vast majority of those who needed it. NGOs continued to make allegations of extra-judicial killings, other ill treatment and torture by state agencies. Devastating flooding in August coupled with poor governance resulted in the ineffective delivery of basic services such as education and healthcare. Freedom of expression and of religion or belief remained limited, in part because of repressive measures by the state, but also because of increased religious conservatism within society, and the activities of violent extremist organisations. The ongoing conflict in the border regions caused a huge displacement of the resident population, and associated rights violations.
Internal instability, conflict and humanitarian disaster have taken their toll on human rights. However, the current administration did make some progress, notably ratification of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the Convention against Torture (although with reservations); reform of the constitution to decentralise power; and moves towards electoral reform. The democratically elected government of Asif Zardari passed the halfway mark of its term in office, a notable landmark in a country where no elected government has seen out its tenure. A vibrant media and civil society continued to flourish, albeit within certain parameters,and the judiciary, although heavily politicised, remained highly independent of the executive.
Pakistan remains one of our highest foreign policy priorities, and 2010 saw ministerial visits from the Foreign Secretary William Hague, Home Secretary Theresa May, International Development Secretary Andrew Mitchell and Minister without Portfolio Baroness Warsi. Implementation of Pakistan’s international human rights commitments is integral to ensuring long-term prosperity and stability, and is in our national interest.
In 2010 the FCO continued to work closely with other UK government departments,the government of Pakistan, other governments and NGOs to address key human rights challenges. In particular, we focused on supporting the government of Pakistan in ratifying and implementing key international human rights instruments; tackling the discrimination and abuse faced by women and minority groups; and enhancing international coordination on human rights. Our lobbying contributed to the government of Pakistan’s decision to ratify the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the Convention against Torture, although we are concerned by the reservations that it made when doing so. Our support also helped the Ministry for Women’s Development to make significant progress towards the criminalisation of domestic violence, along with other legal measures to remove discrimination against women. We also provided capacity building and support to civil societygroups to support their work in speaking out against extremism and intolerance, and in support of democracy and reform.
The year 2010 was an extremely challenging one for Pakistan, and 2011 is likely to follow a similar course. It is estimated that 20 million people were directly affected by the unprecedented flooding. We are working closely with Pakistan and international partners to ensure that there is a credible recovery plan in place.
We will continue to intervene on human rights issues in Pakistan where we believe we can make a positive difference. For 2011, our focus will be on four key priorities:to support an end to discrimination and violence against women; to strengthen freedom of expression, religion and belief; to encourage stronger implementation of Pakistan’s international commitments; and to build the capacity of civil society and bodies mandated to challenge the state’s effectiveness on human rights, such as the Parliamentary Committee for Human Rights.
The elections of 2008 were described by the EU as relatively fair and free. Election observation missions made several recommendations about how the electoral process could be improved. The Election Commission of Pakistan, with the support of the international community, continued to push ahead with its five-year strategy for electoral reform, which began in 2009; this is focused on policy, administrative and legal reforms. Some real progress was made during the course of 2010. The list of registered voters continued to be revised by the National Data Registration Agency in conjunction with the Election Commission, who also put in place several internal reforms to improve the way they work. We have been highly supportive of these efforts and have lobbied the government and parliament on the need for such reforms. There is senior political support for change in this regard but the momentum needs to be maintained to ensure freer and fairer elections, scheduled for 2013.
Access to justice
The justice sector in Pakistan is under-trained, often politicised, corrupt and under-resourced. The courts currently face a backlog of more than 1 million cases. Successful convictions are rare. Police investigations are often seriously flawed,based on allegation rather than evidence, and trials cannot be described as either fair or free in many cases, being marked by delay and intimidation. The government has made little progress on a comprehensive national strategy towards improving the situation, instead focusing on ad hoc measures such as increasing police salaries in Punjab. This is in part because the responsibility for formulating and implementing policy rests with the provincial rather than the federal-level government. The chief justice of the Supreme Court published a national judicial policy to tackle some of these issues amongst the judiciary in 2009, which in 2010 achieved a slight reduction in the huge backlog of cases.
Because the problems are on such a significant scale, we focused on particular issues or areas where we can make a difference. In 2010, we worked with local partners to improve the awareness of legislation around juvenile detainees which led to improved handling of these cases in several large districts across Pakistan.Project work focused on informing local police and other officials about forced marriage and child abduction issues to prevent them from happening, particularly to UK nationals, and to handle these cases sensitively when they occurred. This work received positive feedback from those involved. With an estimated 2,000 deaths due to terrorism in Pakistan in 2010, we also worked with the police and the military to strengthen their legislative framework to tackle this violence. We delivered training to the Pakistan military and police that incorporated relevant human rights components, which was monitored and evaluated within this context.
Rule of law
The rule of law is fundamental to tackling many of the challenges faced by Pakistan,from the effective protection of human rights to poverty reduction and good governance. It is at the heart of a stable democracy and strong civilian institutions. However, the rule of law remains weak. This has led to widespread allegations of human rights violations and a poor response from the criminal justice system to the continued terrorist and sectarian violence which killed thousands of people in 2010.
This issue is a matter of concern for the Pakistani people; 39% felt law and order was the most serious issue facing the government in a 2010 UK-Gallup poll. The British Council’s “Next Generation Report” showed 30% felt injustice was the mainreason for violence and terror in Pakistan. The reasons behind weaknesses in the rule of law in Pakistan are complex, and require significant senior political will to overcome them.
In addition to terrorist-related atrocities, 2010 saw continued and serious allegations of disappearances, abductions and extra-judicial killings made against state security forces and the police by international and national human rights organisations. In response to a video, purporting to show extra-judicial killings in Swat, posted on YouTube and aired on BBC News on 2 October, the Chief of Army Staff launched an official enquiry which has yet to report publicly. We raised our concerns with the military and the government at the most senior levels. Human rights bodies continued to record deaths in police custody, which they alleged were the result of torture or other ill treatment.
Civil society organisations reported enforced disappearances and extra-judicial killings, including targeted killings, in Balochistan. As a result of civil society lobbying, in early 2010 the Supreme Court called on the Ministry of Interior, the military and the intelligence agencies to defend themselves against allegations of enforced disappearances involving hundreds of specific individuals. The government, military and intelligence agencies were called before the Supreme Court and several people were released from illegal detention. The Ministry of Interior established a cell to examine the remaining “missing persons” and committed to work with all parts of the security apparatus to report back on the whereabouts of these individuals. The UK, alongside EU partners, supported these moves towards greater transparency and continued to advocate full disclosure of the whereabouts of all those missing.
Twenty-seven offences carry the death penalty in Pakistan, and the country has more than 7,000 inmates on death row. There is significant public support for capital punishment, including for blasphemy offences. However, in 2010, no one was executed by the state. In October 2009, the prime minister began a consultation with provincial governments about the legislation governing the use of the death penalty. This consultation is ongoing and there is a de facto moratorium on its use. We welcomed this, but continued to work with civil society, and lobby the government and parliament – alongside the EU – to reform the relevant legislation with a view to abolishing the death penalty.
Torture and other ill treatment
The media and civil society made regular allegations of torture in 2010. Torture is prohibited under the constitution of Pakistan. A large number of these alleged incidents are reported to have occurred in police or security agency custody during attempts to extract confessions or force cooperation with an investigation. Similar abuse has also been widely reported in prisons, perpetrated by both officers and inmates.
The extent of such abuse is hard to determine given the nature of the problem and the lack of accurate data, but the number of allegations remained fairly consistent. In 2010 the Pakistani government ratified the Convention against Torture and the Ministry of Human Rights is clear that its intention is to prevent such mistreatment of individuals. However, by the end of 2010 Pakistan had yet to withdraw or amend the reservations it had lodged against some of the core provisions of this treaty when ratifying it. It had also not amended the national law to bring it into line with international minimum standards.
Prisons and detention issues
At the end of 2010 the prison system was operating at 194% capacity, with more than two-thirds of all detainees in ‘pre-trial’ detention, detained for months or years before facing trial. Most detainees endured harsh, basic conditions and limited recourse to legal aid. In 2010 efforts were made by the government of Pakistan to segregate vulnerable prisoners by reducing the number of juveniles in detention and placing women in female-only detention centres. However, a lack of reliable data makes it difficult to assess the extent to which these efforts have been successful.The president has also led efforts to improve the conditions for those convicted or awaiting trial for capital offences. The current government claimed to have released all “political prisoners” – which numbered in their hundreds during the Musharraf era– but there is limited objective evidence available to support such statements. There is no effective national policy towards managing the increasing numbers of detainees.
In 2010, we worked with senior prison officials in different provinces in Pakistan to enhance their understanding of international best practice, exposing them to offender management in the UK, and our ongoing efforts to improve and reform our own system.
Human rights defenders
Civil society in Pakistan is vibrant and energetic, with thousands of NGOs involved inadvocacy and grass-roots support. However, NGOs can face threats from violent extremists, bureaucratic hurdles and political pressure. As a result, the NGO community does exercise a degree of self-censorship. During 2010, we engaged with the government of Pakistan on behalf of specific NGOs that have faced particular problems, urging the government to protect the fundamental rights of all citizens, as laid out in the Pakistani constitution. Through the EU, we raised our concerns regarding human rights defenders with the government of Pakistan. There was slow progress towards setting up a Human Rights Commission for Pakistan. The federal Ministry of Human Rights has undertaken to pass the necessary legislation in 2011. A Human Rights Commission for Pakistan will be a vital pillar to help ensure that the fundamental rights of all Pakistanis are upheld by working to provide a more secure environment in which NGOs can operate.
Freedom of expression
In 2010 media freedom continued to improve, with more of the press openly challenging the government and increasingly the military and security agencies over matters such as enforced disappearances. The constitutional reforms included a new article which guaranteed the right of every citizen to freedom of information. This was partly influenced by a UK-funded project to promote the value of improved freedom of information in support of better governance. We worked closely with the Ministry for Information to support its work to formulate a freedom of information law,through the provision of information and exposure to the UK system and the challenges we have faced in implementing such a law.
However, despite these positive developments, Reporters Without Borders rated Pakistan as 151 out of 178 countries in its “Freedom Index 2010”, making it one of the most dangerous countries in the world to be a journalist. There were several high-profile cases last year where journalists were attacked by unknown assailants.Several journalists were killed in the border areas in terrorist incidents.
In order to restrict media reporting of issues deemed to be of national security, the Pakistani government made moves to amend the current legislation governing the activities of the media by imposing fines and the threat of imprisonment for any reporting considered to be detrimental. These changes are still proceeding through parliament. The government also intervened to block transmission – via the state regulatory authority – of several channels, including the BBC Urdu radio service. This action was challenged in the Supreme Court, who ruled in the media’s favour,ending these restrictions. Effective self-regulation has yet to take root, and much of the media is heavily politicised and partisan, and liable to interference by powerful corporate owners. Overall, the media continued to become more open and hold the government to account, although some outlets remained focused on conveying the “official” position on many issues. We lobbied strongly at senior levels against media restrictions.
Freedom of religion and belief
The assassination of the governor of Punjab in early January 2011 because of his outspoken position in favour of religious tolerance indicated an increasing culture of intolerance and violence perpetrated against minority groups and their supporters. The blasphemy legislation continued to be misused to target both Muslims and non-Muslims, often resulting in prison sentences. In one high-profile case, Asia Bibi became the first woman to be sentenced to death for blasphemy. Several people accused of blasphemy died in custody, or were murdered by unknown individuals when they were granted bail or acquitted. Attacks against Christians and other religious minorities, particularly Ahamadis, continued, with suicide bombers in Lahore killing more than 100 people in May. The case of Shazia Masih, an adolescent girl employed illegally as a domestic servant who was allegedly tortured and murdered by her employers, underlined the marginalised position of the Christian community.
The government’s Ministry of Minorities, along with the president and the primeminister, have made public their commitment to protect minorities and their freedom to worship. Some positive measures have been taken such as reserving quotas in the public sector and parliament for minorities and setting up complaints procedures for those encountering discrimination or abuse. However, this is countered by a growing culture of intolerance led by religious groups who have stepped into the gap left by the government’s inability to deliver justice or basic services. We continued to support those who wish to see reform through lobbying and project work. Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State Alistair Burt has engaged regularly on this issue with Pakistan’s Minister for Minorities Shahbaz Bhatti. Unfortunately efforts by the Pakistani government to reduce the abuses associated with the blasphemy law have been stalled by public opposition to any reform following the assassination of Governor Taseer, and there is little likelihood of much-needed reform in the near future.
International and national NGOs report serious concerns about the extent of violence against women, with discrimination against women enshrined in law. The 2010 UN Development Programme Gender Equality Survey showed that women representedonly 21% of the workforce. Human Rights Watch estimated that 90% of women in Pakistan are affected by some kind of domestic abuse. Violence against women,including sexual violence, continued to be reported by the media in 2010. The Federal Shariat Court issued a highly unwelcome judgment reinstating its right to act as the court of final appeal on cases of rape, which it had previously given up in response to significant domestic and international pressure during the previous decade.
We actively supported the work of the Ministry for Women’s Development, both financially and politically. The ministry drafted, and at the end of 2010 was currently working with parliament to pass, two bills to criminalise domestic violence and to make it easier to convict those responsible for acid attacks, or similar crimes against women. However this legislation became stuck in parliament owing to opposition from the religious conservatives. There continued to be a strong and outspoken civil society campaigning on women’s issues. Several high-profile roles in government are filled by women, including the speaker, who is the first female speaker in South Asia, and the president of the Supreme Court Bar Association. Women played an active role in the parliament this year, tabling as much as 80% of the legislationa ccording to one monitoring body, and actively debating key issues on the floor of the assembly.
We continued to work to support civil society and those parts of government which aim to support and protect women. Progress remains slow, and moves towards greater empowerment for women are challenged by the gradual growth of a culture of intolerance within Pakistani society, exploited by extremist groups for their own agendas. However, ministerial and senior-level intervention, UK-supported activity around international days to mark women’s rights, and a campaign of action to prevent domestic violence helped to reinvigorate the public debate and maintain momentum towards reform. Through public engagement with women parliamentarians and activists, we also helped to protect and encourage these leaders to challenge abuse and discrimination and reduce the risk of reprisals.
The situation for children in Pakistan was not significantly improved in 2010. Despite the efforts of civil society and the international community, UNICEF and Save the Children estimate that millions of children still suffer as bonded labourers, often as a result of their parents’ poverty. Access to primary school education remained limited, with only 57% of children enrolled. Progress to further education was also restricted. According to the UN Development Programme, 2010 statistics showed that only 23% of women and 46% of men had a secondary education and the education received was often of poor quality. The floods in August adversely affected children in terms of their environment, education and health, with the Department for International Development (DFID) estimating that more than 10,000schools were damaged or destroyed. This was exacerbated by terrorist attacks in the border regions that often focused on schools and female students.
For these reasons, a central part of our development programme is to improve the quality, access to, and availability of primary schooling in Pakistan. Improvements have been made at national, provincial and community levels to the way the education sector functions, but there is still some way to go before Pakistan can be said to have reached the Millennium Development Goal for education of ensuring that all children have access to a full primary school education. We continue to lobby the government at all levels and to work with civil society to advocate for education reform and better conditions for children.
Christian Solidarity Worldwide ^ | 24/03/2011
Posted on Saturday, March 26, 2011 2:46:31 AM by chirpmeowwoof
In a dramatic shift, Pakistan signalled the end of the “combating defamation of religions” campaign at the United Nations today.
The United Nations Human Rights Council (HRC) this afternoon passed a resolution that has received widespread acceptance from the international human rights community for being more consistent with international human rights law and norms relating to freedom of religion or belief and freedom of expression. The resolution had been tabled by Pakistan, on behalf of the Organisation of Islamic Conference (OIC).
The new resolution marks a shift from those passed annually by the OIC over the past twelve years. In 2009 Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) had joined over 180 other NGOs in condemning the former resolutions, arguing that they were unworkable, inconsistent with individual freedoms and that they effectively justified domestic blasphemy laws such as those in Pakistan, which are routinely misused.
In contrast, the resolution passed by the HRC today affirmed traditional human rights and called for “a global dialogue for the promotion of a culture of tolerance and peace at all levels, based on respect for human rights and diversity of religions and beliefs”.
The shift in tone comes after years of heated debate on the issue at the UN, and more recently a shift in voting on the issue away from the OIC’s position.
It also comes in the wake of the assassinations of Salmaan Taseer and Shahbaz Bhatti, two high-profile political leaders in Pakistan who had directly opposed Pakistan’s domestic blasphemy laws.
CSW’s Public Affairs Officer, Matthew Jones, said, “We welcome Pakistan and the OIC’s re-wording of its controversial resolutions. We urge the OIC to continue in this direction at the UN General Assembly later in the year towards being fully consistent with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).
“It has seemed for some time that the tide was shifting on this issue but we are encouraged that this new resolution is so explicit in affirming the importance – and complementary nature – of freedom of religion and freedom of expression. There was also a strong indication at recent UN meetings that a catalyst for the change may have been the domestic and global concern over Taseer and Bhatti’s assassinations and increasing worldwide realisation of the negative effects of blasphemy laws.”
The writer Jihadwatch illicited a number of responses, these can be read in the link to the bottom of the story. However, I don't want this article to become a scapegoat for Pastor Terry Jones. His actions are as deplorable as those of the Iranian Special force. Our contempt for such actions as a global community should should not erupt into violence and I pray that people of all faiths promote peace in these troubled times:
Iranian security forces burn hundreds of Bibles, Christians riot -- no, wait...
This is from a few months ago, but is worth recalling in light of recent events regarding Qur'an-burning. Shouldn't Barack Obama and David Petraeus lecture the Iranian government about incitement to violence? What's that? They shouldn't, because Christians aren't going to go ape over this and start killing innocent people? What are you, some kind of Islamophobe? "Hundreds of Bibles Have Been Burned By The Iranian Government Security Forces," by Dan Wooding for Assist News Service, June 7 (thanks to Mackie):
IRAN (ANS) -- The Farsi Christian News Network (www.fcnn.com) is reporting that Iranian Government Security Forces have burned hundreds of Bibles.
A spokesperson for FCNN told the ASSIST News Service (ANS), "This action [of burning the Bibles], which has been confirmed by informed sources, was aired on a site belonging to the Pasdaran paramilitary organization, is nothing less than shameful and the persons responsible must be identified and exposed to the whole world."
The report said that on Saturday, May 29, 2010, Ati News, a site belonging to Morteza Talaee, the previous head of the security forces and the current member of the Tehran's city council, "in its usual anti-Christian propaganda" reported that their social-life reporter had disclosed that shipments of so called, "Perverted Torah and Gospels" had entered Iran through its Western borders.
Two days later, on Monday, May 31, 2010, the same report was reiterated by the official anti-crime website of the Pasdaran Army called "Gerdaub" which said that a large shipment of Jewish and Christian Scriptures had entered Iran through the Western Azerbaijan province and, according to security officials of that province, the "occupier forces" that operate in the Western regions of Iraq were responsible for such activities.
FCCN stated that Gerdaub, the official website of the Pasdaran Army [also known as the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRCG] continued its report by quoting the security official who had stated: "Some of these books are distributed locally, but most of the books are smuggled and distributed all over the country. In just the last few months, hundreds of such 'perverted Bibles' have been seized and burned in the border town of Sardasht."...
Please click link to read full article (click here)
Wednesday, 30 March 2011
Pastor Terry Jones from Florida has exacerbated tense relations between Muslims and Christians since he burned the Quran in Florida on March 20th 2011. His actions are in no way commensurate with the global Christian majority and many lead figures have already spoken out against this act of extremism. US Defence Secretary Robert Gates asked Pastor Terry Jones not to conduct the Quran Burning programme, The President of America and Prime minster David Cameron, The Archbishop of Canterbury, The pope and other are included in the list of condemnation of the burning.
NATO Anders Fogh Rasmussen, NATO Secretary General, said that the church's plans would violate NATO's "values" and may have a negative impact on the security of its soldiers.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon issued his concern that he was "deeply disturbed" and also asserted his belief that such a gesture would be intolerable by any religion.
Despite all the condemnation Pastor Jones undertook his despicable act which has now undermined the international community building exercises, of more compassionate groups.
Pakistani Christians have asked for the BPCA to provide Contact details for Pastor Jones so that people can write or communicate their concerns to him directly. As a consequence we include them at the bottom of this post. A repeat incident will only serve to inflame our religious counterparts in Pakistan and will erode some of the support we have from other minorities in Pakistan.
Since the incident Pakistani Christians have suffered 3 more attacks and the BPCA believe this is only the tip of the iceberg. Already in Pakistan and other Islamic nations protest against the Quran Burning have and are taking place. The volatility within these communities is sure to increase in intensity and ferocity and we call on Christian's to pray for a cessation of the animosity and violence.
We also call for our brothers of all faiths to write and communicate with Terry Jones and his group calling for a termination to the diabolical activities they are conducted that have only served by stirring up alienation and conflict.
Pastor Jones can be contacted via his established group "Doveworld"
Mailing Address: 5200 NW 43rd St Ste. 102 #188 Gainesville, FL 32606-4486
Phone: 352-371-2487 Fax: 352-371-6511
Tuesday, 29 March 2011
Canonise Shahbaz Bhatti and remove foreign aid Budget to Pakistan - if human rights continue to be ignored!
A recent appeal for his canonisation by the Catholic church has been initiated and I belive this will raise international awareness of the existence of Pakistani Christians. Although not a catholic, I believe as many other Christians do - that he was a martyr. As such if he was to be given canonical status it would be a great reward for his achievements and sacrifice and would benefit our community no end. I have placed their petition link below and urge Christians of all denominations to sign it:
I have created a petition to urge the British Government to have a stronger Foreign Policy on Pakistan:
I believe the aid budget should have a specific portion utilised to benefit the downtrodden minorities and that accountability, traceability and equity are required from Pakistan's end. Moreover, I believe that Britain should use the aid budget to lever better Human rights for all Pakistani's irrespective of faith.
A Catholic Church, St. Thomas Church located in Wah Cantt ( Cantonment)almost 45 Km from the Capital Islamabad was attacked by extremists on Monday evening.
Wah Cantonment Ordnance Complex consists of 14 Ammunition facilities in Wah (Pakistan Ordnance Factories - POF), which is supposedly a high security area. According to the caretaker of at the St. Thomas Church said, at around 6:30pm the security guard was not present at the gate, 6-7 armed men entered from the small gate at the entrance and threw stones at the windows, destroyed the light towers and tried to break the Church door. The care taker seeing this rushed to his quarter and called the Parish Priest and the police. The extremists were armed, but they didnt use any of their ammunition, when they were unable to break the Church door, they tried to burn it, ultimately they fled upon failing to enter the Church building. The Parish priest Father Yousaf rushed to the scene and gathered the Christian Community, the caretaker is in a state of shock and is unable to give any statement.
Father Yousaf said,"this is a reaction of the desecration of the quran in Florida, although the catholic Church has officially condemned the incident and we have also displayed a banner outside the Church condemning the incident, still the innocent people are facing these consequences. We had clearly announced that we are not linked or associated with the Americans. There was no guard present at the time of the attack, the local police provides the security but only on Sundays."
Pastor Tariq Emmanuel who lives close to the St. Thomas Church in Wah Cantt said, " We heard the noise from the Church, we rushed to the scene, we saw the men running out from the Church, they didnt open fire as the cantonment area is a sensitive area, the military and the security agencies would have rushed to the Church incase of any gunshots. Although there was no prior threat or any tip from the local police." He further said, " Last week the Regional Police Officer (RPO) Rawalpindi Hamid Gondal had called the Christian leaders, Pastors and Fathers to discuss the current situation. He stressed in the Churches to install security cameras and hire private security guards who are Christians and are reliable, the police will provide the security on request. The Christian leadership had expressed the concerns about the security provided by the police, they were reluctant to trust the police especially after the Salman Taseer and Shahbaz Bhatti`s assassination."
The officials of the security agencies and the police reached the St. Thomas Church. They have taken the statement from the caretaker, the Parish Priest and the nearby residents.
The Bishop of Islamabad / Rawalpindi Rufin Anthony also reached Wah Cantt, he said " we condemn the attack, we had officially condemned Terry Jones from Florida, we have clarified that we are Pakistani Christians, not Americans. From time to time we have been saying that we should not be associated with the Americans. The security agencies and the police has started the investigation, although there was no threat of any sort from anyone or there was no notification from the local police. The most disturbing aspect is that the St. Thomas Church is located close to the POF Complex, which is the sole ammunition factory in Pakistan and is supposed to be a secure area. There are 4 entry barriers for entry, anyone who enters Wah Cantt passes through a security clearance, so the attackers didnt come from outside Wah Cantt, they are still present in the town. We urge the security agencies to take immediate action and arrest the culprits as this is a serious matter. The police has provided 2 armed guards for now, we are planning to have a meeting with the Christian leaders, Anglican Church and Pastors from various Churches to finalize a course of action in the current situation."
This is the third attack on a Church in Pakistan in past one week, a wave of fear and frustration is spreading among the Christians in Pakistan. The Young Christian professionals don't see any hope in Pakistan anymore.
Monday, 28 March 2011
Dear Brother Wilson. This is the clip of Memorial service of Shahbaz bhatti in Sydney Australia held on Saturday 12 March, 2011 by all Pakistani christian community living in Australia showed solidarity with their Pakistani Christian brothers and sisters on this difficult time. The demand of the community is to abolish the blasphemy law totally and stop killings and persecution of Christians in Pakistan. Event Arranged by Pastor David Khan and Media Projection by Oniel Adnan.
Thanking you Mr. Wilson for your co-operation. Another thing that i will send you the pictures of the protest in New-Zealand on Shahbaz bhatti's issue. so you will also promote that event as well.
In Holland Brother Watson Gill organised a succesful protest: Dutch news featured his memorial in a tribute to Shahbaz Bhatti:
Dutch papers covered the protest:
Now I hope more international groups accept our challenge for unity and join us in holding a global protest for change in Pakistan on the 2nd July. This is the date of the arrest of Sajid and Wajid Masih the two pastors gunned down outside a faisalabad court, after being acquitted from a false blasphemy charge.
Sunday, 27 March 2011
No. 06 Qamar David’s death shrouded in mystery
Ali K Chishti
Qamar Davis a Pakistani Christian died in a Karachi jail under mysterious circumstances and no one wants to talk about him.
While the “ghiarat brigade” and most mainstream news channels were busy blowing trumpets on a one-point agenda of hanging an American CIA staffer, the funeral of Qamar David (an unfortunate Pakistani Christian) was being held at St. Joseph Catholic Church, Lahore. A sordid affair, which our proactive self-confessed righteous media completely ignored.
Qamar David was accused of ‘blasphemy’ and was later found dead in mysterious circumstances at Karachi’s Central Jail whose spokesman insists that, “David died due to cardiac failure.”
David according to his family and friends did not die a natural death. In a gathering at Essa Nagri, a Christian dominated area in Karachi, his friends confirmed foul play from both jail authorities and police.
David worked as a cosmetics’ salesman and was doing rather well. He was booked under the blasphemy law due to a forwarded message which everyone and anyone in Karachi was sending. His close friend Samuel Malik later told TFT that his framing happened “due to a business feud by his competitors that caused David his life.” During the trial, the “judge” earned himself a place in heaven by awarding David a life sentence and declaring him to be a “blasphemer” on the basis of content of a forwarded SMS. Those who attended the trial alleged that the judge even delivered a lecture to David and indirectly tried to influence the accused to convert. What happened next was predictable, as more contenders for a place in heaven emerged and David died in Central Jail, Karachi in mysterious circumstances.
This is nothing new in a country like Pakistan which came into being on the premise that Muslim minority deserved protection against Hindu majority while successive Pakistan oligarchies saw no need to recognize the importance of safeguards for Pakistani minorities. The controversial blasphemy laws were strengthened to target specific minorities contrary to traditional Islamic beliefs and laws.
In Pakistan, the blasphemy laws could be traced back to 1860 Indian Penal Code, which catered to the religious sensibilities of the inhabitants of the sub-continent. But then blasphemy was not an offense punishable with death. Take the example of Indonesia, the most populous Muslim country. Article 156 (a) of Indonesia’s Criminal Code forbids ‘anyone from deliberately, in public, expressing feelings of hostility, hatred or contempt against religions with the purpose of preventing others from adhering to any religion’ and forbids ‘anyone from disgracing a religion’. The maximum penalty for violating Article 156 (a) is five years’ imprisonment.
Since 1980s a total of 84 cases have been officially registered under blasphemy law and self-professed messiahs have assassinated 42 inmates.
In 2010, two Christians - Rashid Emmanuel and Sajid Emmanuel - were shot dead in Faisalabad while 39 inmates who were alleged blasphemers have been murdered in courts, jails and in public by not just by vigilantes but by policemen who thought that killing blasphemers is an easy route to heaven including Governor Salman Taseer who was murdered by his own bodyguard Qadri.
Qamar David – the real story?
Qamar David during his time in jail constantly complained of threats by other inmates and prison guards. According to one of the family members who refused to give his name, “David told us that the prison guards had been constantly harassing him and would often threaten him that he would be killed.” Later, the lawyer of Qamar David filed a miscellaneous application in the court praying for security measures of his client but no action was ordered on it - a fact that the central jail superintendent Imdad Ali refutes. Ali maintains, “there was no foul play nor was David ever threatened as we made sure, David was kept with people from his own community as a precautionary measure”. However, investigation reveal that, Qamar was reportedly tortured by a prison guard and a group of convicts which explains the twenty nine marks on David’s body that the Medico-Legal Officer initially confirmed but later back-tracked. David’s family confirms the marks on his body too. The angle of David being poisoned by the ‘mulla group’ - an infamous extremist group serving death sentence in central jail and who celebrated the death of Shahbaz Bhatti and Salmaan Taseer – cannot not be ruled out.
So did David die of violence or a heart attack? While David indeed was a victim of torture in jail, he was in reality the victim of a rotten ideology, which had taken lives of hundreds of innocents including high profile politicians.
Cover-up? David’s controversial post-mortem was carried out at the Civil Hospital by MLO Dr.Qarar Abbasi, Judicial Magistrate East Zakullah Abro, Superintendent of Police Mirza and David’s son Aqeel were present there. The whole affair was kept as a secret. There are reports that David’s son is being threatened to keep quiet. When contacted, the police surgeon refused to confirm the cause of death despite samples of David’s kidney, heart and other body samples being sent out for tests and refuted that David died of violence. The usual process of producing an autopsy report (in four days) has been deliberately delayed to cover-up facts and some claim is being altered to suit the police version of events. Nobody is willing to talk about it due to fear in the society post high-profile killings of Governor Taseer and Bhatti. Within a few months, we will forget Qamar David like we have forgotten hundreds of other inno
cents men and women murdered in the name of ideology. What’s important now is to understand that blasphemy laws in Pakistan can easily be misused and the practical instances testify this horrible fact. In 1994, the then Chairman of Council of Islamic Ideology concluded, “The law (blasphemy) needs modification to ensure that it is not abused by unscrupulous elements for their selfish end. The procedure for police registration of a case, the judicial level at which it should be considered and the suitable criteria for admission of witnesses have all to be looked at thoroughly.” What needs to be ensured now is that David’s case should be made a test case by the government to end vigilante justice. Otherwise we should prepare ourselves with self-programmed killers like Qadri carrying our massacres in the name of religion.
Saturday, 26 March 2011
Here is some footage of an interview I gave on the day:
I spoke twice during the event and many of you have queried why I had left the protest early and removed my memgaphone.
I had to early firstly to collect my daughter from her dance class at nearby Sylvia Young dance class. Moreover, we had been informed by one of the organiser's John Bosco that the protest would be for 2 hours starting at 12;00 and ending at 14:00. I had already stayed beyond this around 15:30 and was actually for a while trying to contact my wife having left my phone in the car, who had made 3 visits to pick me up earlier, but could not find parking.
Many of you will be aware that I was also incensed by the removal of my banner which was not inflammatary and had been placed on a wall at the front of the protest, not by me I must add, but by a group of young British Christians who felt it had a clear message and imagery.
They had not felt other banner really represented who we were to the wider public. They felt that my banner would at least let people know who we were as a community.
The banner was thrown to the floor and one of the organisers had claimed that the Police had asked for it's removal. The Police later confirmed it was not their decision but the lead organisers. This behaviour upset me greatly as I was invited as aguest speaker and my megaphone had been commandeered without request - just removed from my soldiers after I had been cut very short whilst speaking.
Despite not being asked I allowed my megaphone to be used by Christian Social Link as I felt obliged. But seeing our banner discarded in such a manner was the heigh of inpoliteness. I did not want to cause friction but in my angered state I looked to get away as soon as possible with minimum fuss. Fortunately, my wife was just completing another trip to pick me up and I saved a long walk.
The BPCA has an annual protest we have never prevented any group from joining us, speaking if they let us know in time, or using their banners. We positively encourge the brandishing of your own banner whether an individual or a group, we believe it adds to the flavour of our events and gives heart to participants and onlookers.
I do not wish to hold a grudge on the issue and will continue to extend a hand of friendship to all groups including Christian Social Link if they wish to can speak, brandish their banners and participate as best they can if they choose to come to our event on the 2nd July. They would be welcome guests and I apologise if my early depature has caused any friction. I still believe I was in my right to leave early as my daughter is always my priority.
Perhaps in future if any banner is to be excluded from events organiser should provide ample prior warning - to avoid alienation and conflict...?
The answer is simple - absolutely nothing!
We still see the same old, same old and the hear the very same condolences and overtly sympathetic overtures, laced with promises of an ongoing commitment to bring reform to Pakistan.
No legal provision has been altered? No constitutional reform has been discussed or even considered for review?
The 5% quota for minority employment in Pakistan has not been actioned and probably never will, yet is heralded by the existing Government as a progressive landmark?
Minority day celebrations by the High Commission in the UK are yet to take place?
Pakistan day is celebrated with pomp and vigour with an exclusion policy to minorities?
These facts alone illustrate the true commitment to equality this government espouses!
Moreover, my real concern is that in the space of just 4 months we have seen several high profile incidents:
- Asia Bibi a mother of 5 brutally beaten, raped and incarcerated for 2 years on concocted blasphemy charges, now awaiting an appeal for an existing death sentence to be quashed!
- The murder of Muslim Governor of Punjab Salman Taseer (RIP) assassinated for his progressive views!
- The assassination of unprotected (despite requests) Federal Minister Shahbaz Bhatti (RIP) for his forthright stance to protect all minorities.
- The savage shooting of 2 Christian men in Hydrabad and critical injury to another young man, currently fighting to save his life in a Karachi Hospital. This was an unprovoked attack based on the men trying to protect young Christian girls from abuse.
- Christians in Badami Bagh were forced to sign a contract limiting the times for church services and a ban on the ability to speak anything Christian in the streets, after police organised a private meeting with 14 key figures of which 10 were Muslims and 4 were Christians (click here). This coercion was masked as a positive mutual agreement between two faiths!
Having heard the latest diabolical acts, I felt so incensed that I took my megaphone and banner and protested alone outside the Pakistan High Commission yesterday. several Muslim men to accost me and rallied with their usual tirade referring to the Afghan and Iraq War and the recent Quran Burning incident undertaken by Terry Jones. I questioned them on whether this justified the attack on innocent Christians in Pakistan and everyone I questioned categorically said "NO".
Yet if there is no justification why do the Government of Pakistan and more moderate Muslims not join the campaign for an end to the tyranny over minorities in Pakistan? Why oppose my simple protest calling for an end to the persecution of Christians and other minorities?
I fundamentally agree we need to work with all faith groups and agencies to bring change, yet I find myself beleaguered by the lack of commitment and help.
I suggest that as a community we raise the standard a little higher and that more of us place our heads above the parapet. I am in the process of organising a 1 week long fixed picket outside the Pakistan Embassy. I will need a group of 5 volunteers to join me and this could be just a committment of a few hours from a large number of volunteers. I would like to know how many of you will be bold enough and committed enough to join me. I intend to place red paint on the white sash at the base of the Pakistani flag, this section was created by Jinnah to recognise the contribution and value of minorities in Pakistan. That sash has now been made red by the blood of our martyrs.
The Police were called to stop my protest as it had not been pre-booked with the Police events team. I struggled with my conscience as I thought of what to do in the predicament I found myself in, part of me wanted to be arrested so that I could reach a new audience. However, I felt the time is not yet right for full media coverage of such an incident and it could portray negatively for our community.
I will seriously, however, consider being arrested for peaceful protesting in the future, if the Government of Pakistan continues to ignore the ever clear and present danger, of Pakistan falling into anarchy as a consequence of the continued existence of extremism.
Friday, 25 March 2011
Concerned that someone had broken into their compound I investigated and found a large marquee from which loud music was pumped into the local environment.
People were feasting and enjoying a period of merriment on a scale that I have never seen at the High Commission. The High Commissioner himself was dressed in fine apparel as were his senior men.
Apparently I had inadvertently entered a celebration the High Commission of Pakistan and it's nation hold dear to. The day is termed Pakistan Day and bizarrely and this might shock you, it is a celebration of the day that Iskander Mirza (first President of Pakistan)formed the constitution of Pakistan in 1956. This constitution reformed the nation from the Dominion of Pakistan into the more endearing Islamic Republic of Pakistan. Endearing for some I should say.....
Why should be shocked at what the celebration is about? I will clarify my point for you.
When I asked the High Commissioners staff about the derivation of Pakistan Day they tried to fob we off with a whimsical notion that the day was a commemoration of the Lahore resolution, yet the Lahore Resolution took place over 3 days from the 22-24 March 1940.
The Lahore resolution, for those of you that are a little discombobulated by this reference, called for greater Muslim autonomy in British India. However, although the term Pakistan was first mentioned by Choudhary Rahmat Ali in his Pakistan Declaration (A pamphlet calling for Muslim independence) in 1933. Mohammed Jinnah at the time of the Lahore Resolution was still committed to Hindu-Muslim Unity and Pakistan as a concept did not feature in the resolution.
Now some of you might say well why is the 28th January 1933 not celebrated as Pakistan day, as many would argue, the distribution of this pamphlet was the major trigger for Pakistani independence. If so, I believe most scholars would agree with you. Again the questions arises so what exactly is Pakistan Day meant to celebrate?
As I thought about the perplexing confusion around the celebration and in an attempt to make some sense of it all, I fell into a deep trance (figuratively speaking). I cleared away the opaque images in my mind and concentrated on what was around me, immediately a grave concern arose. I noticed that I could not see any Christians at the High Commissioner's event? Why is this I thought? The lack of any fellow Christians was disconcerting, especially considering that Pakistan has suffered the loss of a great Christian humanitarian. His death has sent shock waves around the globe yet during the celebrations the High Commission did not think of holding a 1 minutes silence. Perhaps they did not want to blemish the taste of the halwa puree?
Pakistani Christians have contributed well to British and Pakistani culture and society and were pivotal to it's creation. SP Singha speaker for the Punjab Legislative Assembly cast the deciding vote after a stalemate that included 4 Christian MP votes - yet even here in our egalitarian UK, Pakistani officials are placing class barriers in our way.
At times like this, I think about how fortunate those of us in the UK are... As a consequence of this behaviour the BPCA is joining the boycott of any Pakistan High Commission functions (unless they are memorials for Shahbaz Bhatti), it is clear that the High Commissioner and his cronies are providing lip service to our concerns about the treatment of minorities. Some in our community have for too long disrespected the work of Shahbaz Bhatti who forged Minorities day Pakistan, with great struggle I am sure.
This day recognises the achievements and contribution Christians and other minorities have made in and for Pakistan.
Some groups have protested on this date before and termed it "Black Day", I call on those groups to stop this diabolical activity which undermines Mr Bhatti's work and our communities in Pakistan - give our people back their day please!
Surely their can be no blacker day for our people than the day we were told that despite Jinnah's promise, we were to be made second class citizens and that it would be officially written into the Constitution of Pakistan.
Maybe global Christians outside Pakistan should unite and hold "Black Day protests to the fore of Pakistan High Commissions and Pakistan Embassies (outside Commonwealth), every year on the 23rd of March. Please share your thoughts...
I describe the main points in brief to make it more digestible for our regular readers.
In the debate Andrew Stephenson (Conservative) - Chairman of All party Group on Pakistan, first described how 8 Parliamentarians including Andrew of course visited Pakistan and whilst there had meaningful discussions with Shahbaz Bhatti. He gave reference to Shahbaz Bhatti's determination to see The Founding father of Pakistan Jinnah's vision come to fruition quoting Jinnah:
"let all people worship freely in churches, masjids and temples."
Mr Stephenson went on to talk about Shahbaz Bhatti's effort to bring reform to Pakistan, describing his many achievements including attaining a 5% quota for Government employment posts for minorities. He informed the group of Shahbaz Bhatti's words in which he dedicated his life to;
"struggle for human equality, social justice, religious freedom, and to uplift and empower the religious minorities' communities."
Simon Danczuck (Labour) interjected and confirmed that he had also visited Pakistan as part of the Working Party on Pakistan. He seemed adamant on confirming that it was the abuse of the Blasphemy Law and not the law itself that was the essential problem. He felt that Pakistan was more progressive than originally expected.
Mt Stephenson then called for a wider debate in parliament on Pakistan and also clarified that their mixed views on Pakistan with some hope and some consternation in how the country is operating. He spoke of the unjustified incarceration of Asia Bibi and the Assassination of Shahbaz Bhatti. Mr Stephenson also described the Public condemnation of the killing of Shahbaz Bhatti and the 3 day national mourning set after his death and a two minute silence in Parliament.
MP Jim Shannon asked whether a strong message should be sent to Pakistan to advise them on the need to protect the Christian Minority. Mr Stephenson agreed stating:
"There are growing calls across the country from people of all faiths saying that we must engage more effectively with the Pakistani Government, and that the rights of all citizens must be respected, whether they are Muslim, Sikh, Hindu, Christian or of no faith at all. The rights of all Pakistanis must be respected."
Andrew Griffiths MP (Conservative) - Vice Chairman of the All Party Group on Pakistan confirmed MP's across the UK have been receiving calls form the Pakistani diaspora in Britain calling for action. He asked whether Britain should ask the Government of Pakistan to ensure the voice of it's people is heard and to convey a message of condemnation.
MP Stephenson agreed that work on reform should involve all faiths, he stated that not only should the assassination of Shahbaz Bhatti be comndemned, but called for reform of the Blasphemy Laws section 295c of the Pakistan Penal Code and a recognition of Shahbaz Bhatti's work.
Eric Orrelenshaw MP (Conservative) reminded the group that Muslims are also affected by the Blasphemy Law and suggested that we must highlight that the laws affect all communities to win over the minds of all Pakistanis.
Jason McCartney MP (Conservative) spoke of the need for peace in Kashmir.
MP Stephenson then spoke of his concern that no one ahd been brought to justice for the Killing of Shahbaz Bhatti or for Sangla Hill and other high profile incidents. He reminded the group of Catholic cardinal Keith O'Briens comment of an anti-Christian foreign Policy by providing aid to Pakistan with it's major human rights breaches. MP Stephenson did not believe that removing funding would be a good option but called for more funding to be redirected towards educational reform. He also said;"The Government of Pakistan also need to do more to reverse the gun culture, to promote tolerance and to ensure that no part of the Government, the military or the security services appeases or supports extremists."
He thanked groups working in the field for highlighting the conditions for minorities saying;
"I pay tribute to organisations such as Christian Solidarity Worldwide, the British Pakistani Christian Association and many others, which do so much good work in promoting interfaith harmony and raising the profile of issues such as those I have outlined, which would rarely make it into the British press without their help."
In closing he commented:
"By focusing only on Christian and minority rights, I fear I have painted a fairly bleak picture of Pakistan and its future, but that was not my intention. With the right leaders, things can and will change for the better. The country has so much potential, and we need to work with it to ensure that issues such as those I have outlined are resolved. In doing so, we will ensure that Shahbaz Bhatti did not die in vain, but gave his life to make Pakistan a greater and more tolerant nation."
The is also a comment from Foreign Office Minister Alistair Burt
Wilson and David Griffiths form CSW share a few words.
Christian's and Baha'i followers seeking harmony amongst all people
Together we can overcome all obstacles
Mr Kiani talked of the pain of a nation.
Last night at the Notational Bahai centre in Knightsbridge a sombre devotional meeting was held between Christians, Muslims and the present Baha'i leadership.
Wilson spoke of the desire Shahbaz Bhatti had for his community ensuring that the group recognised he was not a career politician, but had declined 3 Government posts until it became clear to Mr Bhatti that he could not affect change form the outside. He further commented on his attainment of the 5% quota for minority employment in Government posts, his promotion of learning throughout minority communities, how he had stayed with the community of Gojra until an FIR was raised against the original instigator of the blasphemy charge against the victims and of Shahbaz Bhatti's endeavours to get recognition for our communities contribution to Pakistan by the creation of Minorities Day.
David Griffiths the Leader of the South Asian Team at Christian Solidarity Worldwide spoke of the International condemnation of the killing. He reflected on how significant this was, when he described the evident outrage as the first time in his reckoning, that such high profile leaders have spoken out for a political figure that was not the principal leader of a nation. This words were very moving and really brought to light the real achievement of Shahbaz Bhatti.
Kishan from the Bahai Community talked of a need to work together and to illustrate to the Islamic community that we are not their enemy. He called for better unity amongst all faiths and described his amazement that every account of Shahbaz Bhatti was a positive one with similar themes, agreeing that the Nation of Pakistan had lost a very important and unique individual.
Wednesday, 23 March 2011
The British Pakistani Christian Association condemns this outrageous act that will unsettle the already dwindling rapport between Christians and Muslim's in Pakistan.
Minority groups in Islamic states feel the brunt of retaliation for acts such as these that are designed to create division and serve no greater purpose.
Insulting another faith in this way is a pathetic way to get across any message and underline the extremist agenda of Pastor Jones. He has received international condemnation for burning the Quran illustrating the majority of the human race wants to live in peace.
Fanatics like Pastor Jones occur in all faiths and it is vital that Liberal organisations and Governments across the globe continue to deplore the pernicious imaginations of them.
Some Christian men intervened when Christian Girls were being insulted and provoked, the situation seemed to have calmed, however after the service the boys had returned with pistols and started to shoot at Christians indiscriminately.
Jameel Masih only 21 lost his life instantly he had only recently been married and leaves behind a grieving widow. A father of four children Yunis Ilyas also lost his life during the shooting killed on the spot by a bullet fired maliciously. A young man named Sadiq Masih was also injured and is currently receiving treatment in a Karachi Hospital. Early reports suggest that Sadiq Masih is in critical condition.
Please pray for the families of all the afflicted in particular pray for a miraculous healing for brother Sadiq Masih.
The situation in Pakistan is very volatile and we need to pray for God's protection over all Christian's in Pakistan and anywhere we are persecuted.
Tuesday, 22 March 2011
Westminster Hall 22nd March 2011 12:30pm
In January a cross Party group of eight UK Parliamentarians, including myself, visited Pakistan, to look at the challenges facing that country. Given the close historical, economic and social ties between our two nations, with over one million people who trace their roots to Pakistan living in the UK and Pakistan being on the front line in the war on terror, getting our policy towards Pakistan right is of crucial importance.
The aim of the visit was to give UK politicians a better understanding of the democratic challenges facing our parliamentary colleagues in the National and Provincial Assemblies. To understand the impact of Amendment 18 to the constitution, to energise existing bilateral links and learn more about the work of the UK Foreign Office, Department for International Development and British Council in Pakistan. So all of us who went hope to have a longer and broader debate on the UK Governments policy on Pakistan on a future date, something I’m also sure other members present would wish to participate in, however for today I would like to focus my remarks on one specific issue.
That issue is the murder on 2nd March of Shahbaz Bhatti in Islamabad, and the plight of Christian’s in Pakistan.
Our delegation met Shahbaz Bhatti in the Ministry for Minorities during our visit and discussed a range of issues with him including interfaith dialogue and also the murder of the Governor of Punjab, Salman Taseer, a Muslim politician killed by one of his own bodyguards after he criticised Pakistan’s Blasphemy laws. Shahbaz Bhatti was the only Christian in the Cabinet, but he stood up for all minorities in Pakistan wanting to see a tolerant, liberal and secular country that its founding father Jinnah had envisaged when he said “let all people worship freely in churches, masjids and temples.”
At this point it may be worth me explaining a bit more about Shahbaz Bhatti and the work that he did. He was the first Federal Minister for Minorities from 2008 until his assassination at the age of 42. At the time of his appointment as the Minister for Minorities, he said that he accepted the post for the sake of the "oppressed, down-trodden and marginalized" of Pakistan, and that he dedicated his life to "struggle for human equality, social justice, religious freedom, and to uplift and empower the religious minorities' communities." And he added that he wanted to send "a message of hope to the people living a life of disappointment, disillusionment and despair".
During his time as federal minister, he took steps in support of religious minorities. Under his guidance, the government introduced affirmative action for minorities – 5% of all federal employment – and designated 11th August a holiday to celebrate minorities. He banned the sale of properties belonging to minorities whilst law enforcement authorities took action against them. He launched a national campaign to promote inter-faith harmony through seminars, awareness groups and workshops and was initiating comparative religion classes into schools and universities.
Shahbaz Bhatti introduced a prayer room for non-Muslims in the prison system, and started a 24-hour crisis hotline to report acts of violence against minorities. He began a campaign to protect religious artefacts and sites that belong to minorities.
Shahbaz Bhatti, a Catholic, was also a critic of Pakistan's blasphemy laws and it was this that led to his recent murder. He had been the recipient of death threats since 2009, when he spoke in support of Pakistani Christians attacked in the 2009 Gojra riots in Punjab. These threats increased following his support for Asia Bibi, a Pakistani Christian sentenced to death in 2010 for blasphemy.
It is worth pointing out that Asia Bibi is a 45-year-old mother of five from Punjab province and has become the first Christian woman to be convicted and sentenced to death, by hanging, under Pakistan’s blasphemy law. As of today she remains in jail despite many acknowledging that she was falsely accused of blasphemy and repeated international calls for her release.
According to the BBC, Shahbaz Bhatti was travelling to work through a residential district, having just left his mother's home, when his vehicle was sprayed with bullets. At the time of the attack he was alone, without any security. The group Tehrik-i-Taliban told the BBC that they carried out the attack, because Shahbaz Bhatti was a "known blasphemer."
His assassination was condemned by a Pakistani Government Spokesman, saying: "This is a concerted campaign to slaughter every liberal, progressive and humanist voice in Pakistan." President Zardari vowed to combat the forces of obscurantism, and said, "we will not be intimidated nor will we retreat." The government declared three days of mourning and Prime Minister Gillani led a two-minute silence in parliament.
His murder was also condemned around the world with the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, calling on Pakistan to reform its blasphemy laws. And the Pope said his “moving sacrifice” inspired “courage and commitment to strive for religious freedom for all men.”
Shahbaz Bhatti was not just a Christian he was one of Pakistan's most progressive politicians and his death is not just a blow to the Pakistani Christian Community but to all Pakistani’s.
Following his death I tabled EDM 1518 not just to condemn his murder, but to recognise the work that he had done in Pakistan and urge the Government of Pakistan to consider reviewing section 295 of the Pakistan Penal Code, commonly referred to as the “blasphemy laws”. I am pleased to see that as of this morning my EDM has so far gained the support of 82 other MP’s.
The Blasphemy Laws first introduced by the British in a mild form that gave equal protection to all faiths in 1860 and carried a maximum sentence of two years in jail, were given their present form by General Zia ul-Haq in 1986. There is now a mandatory life sentence for desecrating the Qur’an and a mandatory death sentence for “blaspheming” Muhammad. Unlike the Racial and Religious Hatred Act here in the UK, which prohibits people from stirring up hatred against religious groups or individuals on religious grounds, the Pakistani blasphemy law protects the Islamic scriptures and the person of Muhammad from criticism or insult. Although all of Pakistan’s population of 170 million are subject to the blasphemy law, it is worth remembering that religious minority groups only make up about 4% of that number.
Although no one has yet been executed by Pakistan for blasphemy, many have died in custody or been killed before any case is heard in court. Most recently Qamar David, a 51 year old Christian, was found dead in Prison whilst appealing a life sentence imposed under the Blasphemy Laws. Shehrbano Taseer, the daughter of murdered Salman Taseer, recently wrote in the Guardian that “more than 500 Muslims, 340 Ahmadis, 119 Christians, 14 Hindus and 10 others have been charged under the laws. Thirty-two of those accused – and two Muslim judges – have been mowed down by Islamist vigilantes.”
It is worrying that religious zealots in Pakistan have now deemed these man-made laws as nonnegotiable, with the very real threat of murder hanging over anyone who disagrees.
I would therefore welcome the Ministers comments on the “blasphemy laws” in Pakistan and more importantly their abuse and misuse in the settling of scores and other disputes, often against Christians, in the country.
I hope he will agree with me that we should stand shoulder to shoulder with those of all faiths who want to see a debate over the reform of these laws, so they can no longer be used as a tool of oppression against Christian and other minority communities in Pakistan.
I met with a group of Pakistani Christian’s on Sunday 13th March at Woodlands Road Baptist Chapel in Nelson. In addition to many Pakistani Christians who live within Pendle, such as David Dean who organised the event, we were joined by others including Canon Yacub Masih and Wilson Chowdhry from the British Pakistani Christian Association. I know the Minister is aware that there are a number of Pakistani Christian’s living in my seat, as some attended an event that he was kind enough to speak at in my constituency prior to the election.
At the meeting I heard from many about their shock at Shahbaz Bhatti’s murder but also their desire that his death should be a wakeup call not just for the Pakistani Government, but for the International community as well. Those at the meeting felt that there was no better illustration of the rising problems of anti Christian discrimination in Pakistan than the murder of Salman Taseer and Shahbaz Bhatti over reform of the “blasphemy laws”. Concerns were also expressed about whether the UK couldn’t do more given the amount of money we give to Pakistan in Foreign Aid.
As the Minister will be aware this was an issue that was picked up by Cardinal Keith O’Brien last week when he criticised the government for increasing overseas aid to Pakistan to more than £445 million without demanding religious freedom for Christians and other religious minorities, such as Shia Muslims. Cardinal O’Brien was quoted in press as saying “I urge William Hague to obtain guarantees from foreign governments before they are given aid.....To increase aid to the Pakistan government when religious freedom is not upheld and those who speak up for religious freedom are gunned down is tantamount to an anti-Christian foreign policy.”
Whilst I share the Cardinal’s concern about the plight of Christian’s in Pakistan I am not sure withdrawing or cutting of aid in response to Shahbaz Bhatti’s death would be the most productive thing to do right now. I would however welcome the Ministers comments on what the Cardinal said as I know many would agree with his comments.
To date no one has been arrested and brought to justice over Shahbaz Bhatti’s murder, something which makes matters even more painful for the religious minorities who hold him in such high regard. It is of course possible that the security services in Pakistan and the government do not know who the killers are. However with no one being arrested and held accountable for so many other incidents of violence against minorities, such as Sangla Hill in 2005 or Gojra in 2009, the fact no arrest have been made is a deep concern.
In the time allowed I have tried to describe the situation in Pakistan as best as I can. There are numerous other incidents of persecution I could have added in, many detailed to me by Pakistani Christian’s now living here in the UK.
I would finish by saying that I believe that the best long term way that we will see Pakistan become a liberal and tolerant nation, which values and treats all of its citizens fairly, is through increasing rates of education in the country. I was therefore pleased to see an increasing focus on education in DFID’s recent Aid Review. Something the Minister may like to touch on in his remarks.
The Government of Pakistan also need to do more to reverse the “gun-culture”, to promote tolerance and ensure that no parts of the Government, Military or Security Services are appeasing or supporting extremists.
I would also pay tribute to the work of organisations such as Christian Solidarity Worldwide and British Pakistani Christian Association, who do so much good work to promote interfaith harmony and raise the profile of the issues I have outlined today. Issues that would rarely make the British press without their help.
By focusing just on the issue of Christian and minority rights today I fear I have painted a fairly bleak picture of Pakistan and the country’s future. That has not been my intention. I believe that with the right leaders things can and will change for the better.
The country has so much potential and we need to work with Pakistan to ensure that issues like the ones I have outlined today are resolved. In doing so we will ensure that Shahbaz Bhatti did not die in vain, but gave his life to make Pakistan a greater more tolerant nation.
Read more here:
I met Alison whilst a guess on the Premier Christian Radio news of the week debate (a half hour discussion on the last week's news). Alison is a passionate woman who has great love for the wider Christian community.
Terry Jones the Pastor immersed in controversy over his threats to burn the Quran on the anniversary of the terrorist attack on the former World Trade Centre now known as 9/11, has been refused entry to the UK.
he had intended to hold a Judge the Quran event on the 20th March during which he threatened to hold court over the Quran accusing the Islamic religious text of murder and persecution. He challenged Muslim's to come and debate with him over why the Quran should not be burnt.
Events like these stimulate hatred amongst people and should be condemned. The BPCA is pleased that the UK Government has rightly refused entry to a man who could have damaged the peaceful coexistence of British communities. Moreover, the actions of Pastor Terry Jones will only serve to ignite further the terrible extremism we see in Pakistan and other intolerant states.
The BPCA believe such preventative action should be taken against individuals promoting intolerance and hatred from any faith, political or cultural perspective.
learn more by following this link:
It was good to see you at the Baptist Church in Nelson last Sunday.
I have secured a Westminster Hall Debate on “Government Policy on Pakistan” for Tuesday, where I will get the opportunity to speak for 15mins, followed by a reply from the Foreign Office Minister Responsible, Alistair Burt MP. Whilst I want to touch on a few different issues the bulk of what I want to say will be about Shahbaz Bhatti and the plight of Christian’s in Pakistan.
I would therefore really appreciate anything you can send me in advance of the debate. Especially a copy of the slides you talked us through last Sunday.
Andrew Stephenson MP
Monday, 21 March 2011
At a small gathering of around 40 people the Archbishop of the Church of Pakistan - Alexander Malik, spoke out against the persecution of minorities in Pakistan.
The Bishop of Lahore talked on the misuse of the Blasphemy Law and the suffering of Christians. When asked if he was raising a voice for Christians the Archbishop stated that he was talking to Islamic leaders, but that no compromise was given when broaching the subject of reform.
The meeting was very short and there was little opportunity to ask questions, on the 3 occasions I was able to speak I clarified the more gory details of Christian persecution and the wider inequalities that exist. Many Visitors not known that only 7% of Pakistani Christians attain adequate literacy and others were unaware that 80% of our community work as janitors or domestic servants.
I also highlighted the impact of the Islamicised ammendments 295b&c that have perverted the original intent of section 295 and 295a -the original public order act, that protected all faiths in Pakistan when introduced by the British to protect the Muslim minority from Hindu extremists.
Many shared our concern for our people and offered to attend our protest.
I was unable to ask what was happening to the heritage of our church in view of the recent landsales. Besides it did not seem appropriate at this meeting as at a time when we need unity from wider churches it did not seem fit to cause consternation amongst the goodhearted visitors.