Wilson Chowdhry with Canadian Minister for Religious Freedom Andrew Bennett
Last night (4th July 2013) Humanitarians gathered at the Canadian High Commission, Trafagar Square, London, to hear a conversation between newly commissioned Canadian Minister for Religious Freedom Andrew Bennett and Former Pakistani Minister for National Harmony, Paul Bhatti.
The gathering was an opportunity for groups to learn and share about religious freedom in Pakistan and around the world.
Paul Bhatti, described his short tenure as Minister of Religious Harmony, describing cases such as that of the Mother of five children Asia Bibi; who became the first Christian woman to have gained a death sentence in 2010, after an argument with fellow berry pickers and the case of juvenile Rimsha Masih, who last year was accused under Pakistan's blasphemy laws, despite suffering from a mental impairment. She has recently fled to Canada for safety and refuge reasons. To the consternation of a number of guests Dr Bhatti stated;
"I don't think the blasphemy laws of Pakistan are a problem".
He went on to describe the inappropriate curriculum in Pakistan as the cause of religious schism in Pakistan. Without being specific about the portrayal of minorities as evil characters or the lack of recognition of minority public figures who have contributed so much to the creation and development of Pakistan.
Minister Bennet, described his role and informed invited guests that he was seeking to make stronger bonds with humanitarian groups, working in the field. At the end of the meeting Wilson Chowdhry provided some information on the BPCA and has agreed to forward an electronic copy of our latest report "The targetting of Minority Others' in Pakistan," to his office.
Wilson Chowdhry said;
"In accepting Rimsha Masih for asylum the Canadian Government has sent out a strong message, that it is a force for good in a broken world and that as a nation they will not pander to the whims of extremists. We submitted a report to the Canadian Immigration and Refugee Board in January this year, which is being used as a tool to decide Pakistani Asylum seeker cases. We hope to continue this relationship with the Canadian Government and hope to have opportunities to work with Minister Bennett going forward."
"Former Minister Paul Bhatti's perception of the Blasphemy laws are flawed. The laws are specifically designed to protect the Islamic faith and provide no protection to other faiths, this type of bias send out the wrong message to the next generation of Pakistani's. Education is only one step to a more egalitarian Pakistan, firstly the country need to accept that intolerance exists and should make immediate changes to the National curriculum, evidence of demonising of minorities in text books has existed for decades. Moreover, the curriculum should introduce a more inclusive religious studies course, rather then Islamic studies. This will provide cultural enrichment, whilst removing fear of proselytising, which will reciprocally entice more minorities to take up education more earnestly."
Dr Paul Bhatti
The imposing Canadian High Commission at Trafalgar Square, London.