'Misuse of Pakistan's blasphemy laws is killing minorities,' says human rights organization

Source:  www.assistnews.net

Date:  2013-07-04

Some 178 Christian homes were torched in a recent outbreak of violence

By Shahid Khan
Special to ASSIST News Service

GLASGOW, UK (ANS) -- The escalating misuse of Pakistan's blasphemy laws is killing minorities in Pakistan, a UK-based human rights organisation is warning.

This pictures posted on a social networking site
says it all

Following the torching of 178 Christian homes in Pakistan due to allegations of blasphemy, the Global Minorities Alliance (www.globalminorities.co.uk), staged a protest outside the Scottish Parliament and launched a worldwide awareness campaign, which has so far received a massive response.

The trouble began in March of this year, when a highly-charged mob of between 3,000 and 4,000 extremists torched as many some 178 houses in the Christian-majority area of Joseph Colony, Badami Bagh, Lahore, over the weekend to "take revenge of the blasphemy" allegedly committed by a young Christian.

Eyewitnesses said that the mob broke into houses, looted them and burnt the remaining belongings on the roads. At least two police officers were reportedly injured when the mob pelted a police contingent with stones.

According to Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW), the violence was reportedly triggered by a blasphemy accusation made against a young Christian, Savan Masih.

"The unrest spiraled as word spread of the allegation and protestors demanded his arrest," said a spokesperson for CSW. "Police took him into custody today, but it is unclear whether or not he has been formally charged. At least one local religious leader has openly called for Savan to be killed."

The mob also attacked Savan's house, setting it on fire and pelting it with stones.

A protestor celebrates the burning
of Christian homes
(Photo: Abid Nawaz/Express, Pakistan)

Nearly all the residents of Joseph Colony, home to around 150 Christian families, including women and children, hastily fled the area in anticipation of the attacks, some on the advice of local police.

The Alliance wrote letters to all the leaders of the G8, a forum for the governments of eight of the world's eleven largest national economies, who held their most recent summit in Northern Ireland on June 17th-18th, plus all representatives in the House of Lords, the House of Commons, the Scottish Parliament and the European Parliament prior to their demonstration over misuse of Pakistan blasphemy laws on April 8, 2013.

Among the G8 countries, Germany, UK, Canada, and France responded to the Alliance and gave assurances of their dedication to protecting minorities' rights in countries where minorities are marginalized and discriminated against.

A letter from the office of the President of Germany, Joachim Gauck, expressed concern over the continuous misuse of Pakistan blasphemy laws, stating that "prosecuting someone because of her and his belief is in clear violation of human rights." The Alliance was assured that Germany will impress the new political leadership in Pakistan to make reforms to ensure protection and safety of its citizens, as well as to focus on capacity development and training for the law enforcement agencies and the police.

The response from the offices of the Prime Ministers of both Canada and France acknowledged the Alliance's work to raise awareness of persecuted minorities, and stressed the need to safeguard rights of minorities.

The Alliance also received a response from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO), condemning the continuous killings of innocent people on the basis of faith and ethnicity in Pakistan and offering assurances that the British Government will urge the Government of Pakistan to protect and guarantee the rights of its citizens.

To continue its awareness-raising campaign, the Alliance demonstrated in front of the Scottish Parliament on April 8. They were joined by the Muslim Society of Edinburgh, the World Mission of the Church of Scotland, as well as members of public and other religious leaders from both Glasgow and Edinburgh.

"We are deeply concerned over the misuse of Pakistan blasphemy laws, which has encouraged us to write to the international community in a bid to raise awareness. There has recently been an escalation in the use of Pakistan's blasphemy laws and this is killing minorities in Pakistan," said Mr. Manassi Bernard, the Alliance's Chief Executive.

The Alliance gave a thirty day ultimatum to the Government of Pakistan to rebuild torched houses in Joseph Colony, Lahore, where thousands of people attacked the Christian community following allegations of blasphemy on March 9, which led to 178 Christian houses being burnt to the ground.

The Global Minorities Alliance (GMA) has since received numerous letters from the UK House of Lords, the House of Commons and the Scottish Parliament, plus religious leaders worldwide, expressing appreciation for the work of Global Minorities Alliance and solidarity with its ethos - to stand with the poor and the persecuted:

A letter received on the behalf of Alex Salmond, the First Minister of Scotland, from the Directorate for Local Government and Communities shared the concern of Global Minorities Alliance and dubbed blasphemy laws as a "sensitive" subject in Pakistan. It stated that the Scottish Government will encourage new Government in Pakistan to support interfaith dialogue and the reforms of the blasphemy laws.

Dave Thompson, Member of Scottish Parliament for Skye, Lochaber and Badenoch, wrote a letter to the Pakistan Consulate in Glasgow questioning the Pakistan Government's relief efforts for the victims of Joseph Colony tragedy, and requesting that measures be taken to stop such tragedies in the future.

The Archbishop of York
(Photo: EPA/Stephen Pond)

The Ugandan-born Archbishop of York, Dr. John Sentamu, thanked the Alliance for their work in raising awareness about minorities in Pakistan and assured them he would raise the Alliance's concern at the highest possible level.

The Archbishop of Sydney, Cardinal George Pell, also encouraged the work of the Alliance and commended the efforts of raising awareness about the persecuted minorities.

A letter from the European Parliament in Brussels also shared the Alliance's concerns.

"We would like to thank all those who have taken time and acknowledged the work of the Global Minorities Alliance to defend the defenseless and be the voice for those who are voiceless as we continue to further our struggle," said Manassi Bernard, the Alliance's Chief-Executive.

Rimsha Masih in this police picture taken after her arrest

I, as the Alliance's Vice-Chairperson, laud the efforts of Jason Kenny, the Canadian Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism for facilitating the safe passage of teenager Rimsha Masih and her family into Canada. The family have been into hiding after she was released from blasphemy charges last year.

The Alliance's next step is to start an international campaign for the release of Asia Bibi, a Christian mother of five on death row in Pakistan. "We will not rest until she is released," said Shahzad Khan, the International Director for Interfaith and Dialogue.

About Global Minorities Alliance

Formed in 2012, the Global Minorities Alliance is a Glasgow-based human rights organisation, committed to raising the voice of minority communities around the world.

The Alliance works towards this commitment by campaigning for:
* Poverty alleviation
* Interfaith harmony
* Education
* Empowerment of women
* Reform of discriminatory laws
* Peaceful co-existence

As stated by me on the Global Minorities Alliance website www.globalminorities.co.uk: "The absence of fairness, transparency, meritocracy and the rule of law in general in some countries leave minorities more vulnerable to abuse as the mighty and influential in these lawless lands take it as their birthright to mistreat minorities as they choose. In some parts of the world the integration of minorities into mainstream society is restricted by design due to the subjugation forced upon them.

"We call for an end to the systematic discrimination of minorities in any shape or form and urge the governments of such countries to push through reforms aimed at providing equal rights to the poor and the disadvantaged sections of their societies.

"No-one can choose where they are born or who they are born to. To be born into a minority community should not mean that you have to live a life where you suffer at the hands of your own countrymen.

"We say enough is enough and call upon the international community and like-minded organizations and individuals across the world to support us in our commitment to help the minority communities across the world."

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