By Rebecca Gebauer
Special to ASSIST News Service
GLASGOW, UK (ANS) -- John Mason, a member of the Scottish Parliament, which meets the Holyrood area of the capital, Edinburgh, expressed his concern over the Pakistan's blasphemy laws during a meeting with delegates of Global Minorities Alliance (GMA) at the Alliance's Glasgow office on Monday, April, 29, 2013.
GMA delegation seen with John Mason, Member of the Scottish Parliament
Sheraz Khan, Chief Executive of Global Minorities Alliance gave an in-depth briefing to Mr. Mason, the Member of the Scottish Parliament for Glasgow Shettleston, a district in the east end of Glasgow, on the widespread misuse of Pakistan's disputed blasphemy laws. Mr. Khan told the MSP that the laws were being "widely misused in Pakistan" to "settle personal scores and vendettas."
He said that the abuse of the blasphemy laws had dealt a "massive blow to communal and interfaith relations in Pakistan," and he requested that Mr. Mason voice the Alliance's concern over the misuse of Pakistan blasphemy laws in the Scottish Parliament. Mr. Mason said that he would write to the Pakistan Consulate in the first instance to get their response. A members' motion or question to a minster could also be possible other options, he said.
Mr. Khan also drew the MSP's attention towards the "infiltration of Islam" into the text books of linguistics and social sciences. "A grade 2 book of the Urdu language asks questions like: 'Who are we'? and the answer given is: 'We are Muslims,'" Mr. Khan told the meeting.
He said that the answer expected of the students is a negation of the historical and geographical fact that Pakistan is a "multi-religious country."
When Mr. Mason asked Mr. Khan if the constitution of Pakistan guaranteed equal rights to minorities, Mr. Khan replied that the "protection of all citizens of the country, including minorities, was enshrined in the articles 25, 26 and 27 of the country's constitution" and that he regretted that minorities "are not given equal rights in Pakistan."
Khan added, "They are discriminated against in almost every area of life."
Mr. Mason enquired of Mr. Khan why the courts in Pakistan had handed out a death sentence to people accused of having committed blasphemy if there was "insufficient evidence." Mr. Khan responded by saying that "the lower courts have, in the past, given death sentences to the blasphemy-accused after coming under intense pressure from fundamentalist Muslims and radical clerics."
Mr. Khan then told Mr. Mason that former President Pervez Musharraf had proposed that any blasphemy accusation be probed by a high ranking police official before a First Information Report (FIR) is lodged against the accused.
"It did not see the light of the day as Musharraf had to roll back his position after Muslim clerics voiced stringent opposition to the proposal," he stated.
Mr. Mason asked how the "moderate Muslims" were coping with the escalation in fundamentalism in Pakistan and Mr. Khan told him that they were becoming "highly insecure in the face of fundamentalists and the hostile climate in Pakistan."
Mr. Khan also told the meeting that Ms. Sherry Rehman, a top liberal politician from the Pakistan People's Party was also accused of having committed blasphemy some years back which forced her to go into hiding.
"She was later installed as the Pakistan Ambassador to the United States," he added.
"If high profile people like Ms. Rehman are not immune from blasphemy accusations, one can imagine the vulnerability of members of Pakistan's religious minorities," he went on to say.
After listening intently, Mr. Mason assured his support for Pakistan's minority groups. He also said that he shared the concerns of the Global Minorities Alliance concerning the misuse of Pakistan's blasphemy laws. The two men agreed to highlight the sufferings of such persecuted people.
An eight member delegation that attended the meeting included Jagan Nathan a representative of a Hindu temple in Glasgow, Chinaka Odum a Nigerian activist, Rev. Peter Gill a minister of Church of Scotland in Paisley, Mr. Manassi Bernard an executive member of the Global Minorities Alliance, Shahzad Khan, Director Interfaith Harmony, Rev. George Fetahdin Gill, GMA'S Director Integration and Development for refugees and Shahid Khan, vice-chairperson of Global Minorities Alliance.