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1998 | 50th Regular Session of the UN Sub-Commission on Human Rights

Protection of religious minorities in Pakistan

August 3 – 28, 1998
Palais des Nations, Geneva

Franciscans International and Dominicans wish to bring to the attention of the Sub-Commission the situation of persons belonging to a religious minority in Pakistan. Since 1997 we have made statements at the Commission and Sub-Commission meetings requesting that Pakistan repeal all discriminatory laws especially Blasphemy Laws. The latter laws create division and conflict between different religious groups with tragic results. This is inconsistent with and a violation of the provisions of the Declaration on the Rights of Persons Belonging to national or ethnic, Religious and Linguistic Minorities, and other human rights treaties. Article 1 of the Declaration says the following: “States shall protect the existence and the national or ethnic, cultural, religious and linguistic identity of minorities within their respective territories and shall encourage conditions for the promotion of that identity.” In Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights it is stated that “Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion: this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.”

On May 6, 1998, a Pakistani Catholic Bishop John Joseph took his life to protest against the Blasphemy Laws and the death sentence given to a Christian Ayub Masih who was accused of blasphemy against the Prophet (P.B.U.H.). A joint pastoral letter was issued on May 14 by the Catholic and Protestant bishops in which they stated: “We honor Bishop John Joseph as a witness to the need for religious freedom and the ending of religious hostility on all sides.”

Blasphemy laws:
In October 1990, the Federal Shariat Court of Pakistan in its ruling advised the Federal Government to further amend section 295-C of the Pakistan Penal Code which made capital punishment mandatory for the offense of blasphemy against Prophet Mohammed (PBUH). The primary aim of these amendments, as explained by the then government, was to prevent the spreading of the Ahmadis’ belief. From then on, non-Muslims living in Pakistan who allegedly show disrespect to Islam would be treated as a criminals. The majority of those charged with blasphemy belong to the Ahmadis (or Ahmadiyya), and in recent years Christians have increasingly been accused of blasphemy.

Human rights groups in the country have long been demanding a repeal of the blasphemy laws in Pakistan. Human rights lawyers and organizations claim that most cases of blasphemy are a result of the abuse of law by certain individuals and religious groups in order to settle personal disputes or to stir up disharmony among religious groups. Also, procedural deficiency in the legal system and alleged police torture have further complicated the problem. These sections (298-A, 295-B and C), unlike earlier such provisions, made no conditions about the actual intention of such acts. And they allowed little room for investigation and verification of evidence between the time allegations were made and actions (judicial or extra-judicial ones) against the accused were taken. Court cases had shown that often mere allegation without circumstantial evidence was enough to condemn a person. Moreover, the accused are not allowed the right to defend oneself under the controversial blasphemy laws. And often, though not always, its victims were non-Muslims. The Ahmadis remained the most persecuted community. In recent years, Christians are increasingly charged with blasphemy. However, more importantly, both Muslims and non-Muslims alike suffer.

In his testimony before the Committee on Foreign Relations of the United States Senate, the Right Reverend Munawar Rumalshah, the Anglican Bishop of Peshawar of the Church of Pakistan commented on the difficulties for the Christian minority.

He stated: “In Pakistan, it is becoming increasingly difficult to build our places of worship. We are being told often, unofficially at least, that no permission can be given for the building of churches, simply because it is a land for the Muslims. In Pakistan’s capital, Islamabad, a new church building was demolished by angry mobs, even after permission was granted by the authorities to build. We rebuilt, only to have it torn down again … and then rebuilt and torn down a third time

As a religious minority, we live under a constant feeling of socioeconomic strangulation. We are no longer a Church serving the poor, but a Church of the poor. There is massive employment discrimination, both in the public and private sector. Usually, only the most menial jobs are available to Christians. In my own diocese in northwest Pakistan, 85% of my people are severely deprived, working as “sweepers” who remove human excrement from the streets. We are being socially ostracized and economically paralyzed simply for the “sign” of being Christians. As an example, the number of Christians in employment in the federal government of Pakistan is 0.7% and 87% of those are in the lowest three categories. The reason? This is a land for Muslims, and we are merely Christians. ”

Separate electorates
The new system provides that in all elections, non-Muslims would vote separately for a designated number of non-Muslim seats; that is, for example, Christian voters can only vote for Christian candidates. This has the effect of marginalizing the non-Muslim population. The principal parties and their candidates do not have to solicit the non-Muslim votes. Many in the minority communities have stopped registering themselves as voters to express their resentment of the system. They have become skeptical of the relevance of the issues raised by the minority candidates.

In his testimony before the United States Senate, Bishop Rumalshah said that Pakistan is now practicing an apartheid legal system. As a member of a minority, he said that he was barred from standing for election as a Member of Parliament representing the majority community, or even from voting in the main elections for Muslim members of Parliament. Instead, he is restricted to voting for one of a handful of minority members of Parliament, with no influence on who runs the country. Non – Muslims have become politically voiceless. He stated that this is an aberration and an antithesis of anything called democracy. Further he said that the world was in agony when apartheid was being practiced in South Africa and yet seems to be quite ignorant of the situation in Pakistan and perhaps other such places.

Franciscans International and Dominicans endorse the recommendation of the Justice and Peace Commission of the Major Superiors of Pakistan :

  1. That the government of Pakistan repeal all the discriminatory laws particularly the blasphemy laws, section 295 B and C of the Pakistan penal code
  2. That the government implement all the provisions of fundamental rights which are contained in part 2, articles 8 to 10 of the Constitution of Pakistan
  3. That the government of Pakistan promote equal rights for all citizens of Pakistan according to article 25A of the Constitution
  4. That the government abolish the separate election system
  5. That the role of minorities in the creation and development of Pakistan be publicized and included in school and college textbooks
  6. That the government of Pakistan adopt legislation forbidding religious discrimination.
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