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The situation of religious freedom in Pakistan, especially for the Christian minority, has been an issue of serious concern to Dominicans for Justice and Peace, since 1997, in its advocacy role at the United Nations in Geneva. We collaborate closely with two major groups in Pakistan: the Justice and Peace Commission of Religious Men and Women and the National Commission for Justice and Peace of the Catholic Bishops.

Statements at the UN on Pakistan

In a statement before the UN Commission on Human Rights in April 2002, Philippe LeBlanc OP declared that religious intolerance remains at the root of a number of conflicts and ongoing violence in Pakistan. The absence of political will on the part of the government to end this discrimination further encourages groups to persecute and victimize individuals and organizations. At the UN Sub-Commission in August 2002, he again strongly urged the Government of Pakistan to assume its full responsibility to take immediate and comprehensive action to end discrimination against Christians and other religious minorities and promote and protect human rights for all.

Violence in Pakistan

In Pakistan, the climate of religious intolerance breeds unrest and provokes violent attacks by extremists. Historically, the political leadership and martial law regimes have used Islam to legitimize their rule to the disadvantage of religious minorities. This has led in recent years to ethnic and sectarian strife among Muslims and the imposition of discriminatory and repressive laws against religious minorities.

More serious attacks have taken places since last year. On October 28, 2001 sixteen Christians and a Muslim police constable were massacred in the Dominican Church of St. Dominic in the diocese of Multan in Bahawalpur in the worst single massacre of Christians in Pakistan’s history. On August 5, 2002, six Pakistanis were killed and at least three wounded when masked gunmen burst into Murree Christian school for children of foreign missionaries. Recently, on September 25, 2002, seven Christian human rights defenders were
brutally murdered at the Committee for Justice and Peace (Idare-e Aman-O-Insaf) office in Karachi.

Discrimination in Pakistani law

Additionally, religious discrimination is inscribed in legislation that tends to promote a culture of intolerance and division. The legislation is contained in the Separate Electorate Act for religious minorities as well as in the Blasphemy Laws 295 B and C of the Penal Code that includes the death penalty for violation of the laws.

Under the discriminatory Law of Evidence, the courts of Pakistan operate under a biased legal procedure. For example, under the Law, court witnesses are judged according to their religion and gender: the testimony of one Muslim male court witness is equivalent to the testimony two non-Muslim male witnesses. Further, the testimony of one male Muslim is equivalent to the testimony of four non-Muslim women.

Discrimination in the electoral process in Pakistan

Since 1985, the Separate Electorate system has represented a form of religious apartheid, where Muslims were required to vote for Muslims, Christians for Christians, Hindus for Hindus, etc. Religious minorities are denied equal participation and have been treated as second-class citizens.

Reintroduction of joint electorate in Pakistan

Following years of advocacy on the part of religious minorities and the Dominican Family in Pakistan and interventions at the UN in Geneva, the government of Pakistan announced, on 16 January 2002, the reintroduction of the Joint Electorate system which was viewed by everyone as a great victory in the struggle against religious discrimination. Joint electorates will enable religious minorities to participate equally in the political life of their country, reduce religious harassment and end a long period of religious discrimination against them.
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