Pakistan: Religious minorities - ensure protection of places of worship and properties

WLUML has received this call for action from friends at Hotline Asia and urges you to respond. They state that in the past 10 months (May 2005 to February 2006), the places of worship and properties of religious minorities are increasingly being targeted by the extremist attacks and grabbing of properties in Pakistan.
During this period, at least 7 Churches, 7 houses belonging to the religious minorities, 3 Pastors houses, 1 Convent, 1 girl's hostel and a dispensary run by nuns, 7 Church-run schools, a college of the Christian community, a place of worship of Ahmadis, a Temple of Hindus and 3 hospitals of the Christian community were destroyed in various provinces and cities; a Hindu couple, accused of blasphemy, lost their property; 10 persons belonging to religious minorities were killed, 27 individuals were booked under blasphemy laws; and hundreds were harassed and injured by the fanatics in different incidents.

While in many cases, the violence and attacks are triggered by alleged religious accusation based on laws and policy, the government has failed in addressing the root causes of the religious intolerance. Hate speech against non-Muslims through media is common at all levels in the government approved curriculum and vernacular media. The hate speeches are also delivered from the mosque's pulpits.

After the continuous attacks on the places of worship and properties of religious minorities, the atmosphere is very tense and religious minorities feel insecure in the country. The Church leaders (Bishops of the Catholic Church and Protestant) met the authorities in February 2006, requesting them to protect religious minorities. Local human rights organizations are also writing to the authorities and organizing seminars, conferences and interfaith consultations on "Protection of religious minorities" in March, requesting and demanding the authorities to look into the miserable situation of religious minorities, ensure the protection of their places of worship and properties and take immediate action against the culprits.
Pakistan is multi-religious country with majority (97%) of Muslims. Religious minorities consist 3% of the total population, include Christians, Hindus, Parsis, Sikhs, Behais and Ahmadis. (The Ahmadis claim themselves to be Muslims but were declared out of Islam through a constitutional amendment in 1974).

The Constitution of Pakistan establishes Islam as the state religion. Although it states that adequate provisions should be made for minorities to profess and practice their religions freely, the religious freedom is severely restricted in practice.

The relationship between the religious communities is tense: there is widespread discrimination towards religious minorities and violence against them frequently occurred.

Recent Attacks

From May 2005 to February 2006, the following incidents took place against religious minorities in Pakistan by religious extremists.
  1. A mob set ablaze a temple of Hindu and destructed housing locality of minority communities. The incident followed a dubious allegation of desecration of the Holy Quran, leveled against Yousaf Masih (60), in June 2005 at Nowshera, a district of North West Frontier Province.
  2. The police raided the Catholic Sisters' bookshop (Daughters of St. Paul) at Karachi in June 2005, for allegedly issuing literature or materials which hurts the feelings or belief of other religion. Daughters of St. Paul (the nuns) has been selling CDs, videos and Christian literature and offering faith-enriching material about Christian religion and moral teachings at Karachi since 1948.
  3. In September 2005, the buses bringing the pilgrims (Christians) were stopped by armed men at Mariamabad and the passengers were robbed of their cash and valuables. The next day dozens of police cadets were found present in the compound reserved for the fair. They reportedly harassed people by unlawful body search and forced individuals to give bribe to them. An annual pilgrimage is held at this village named after Mother Mary, at district Nankana Sahib since 1949, to pay homage to her.
  4. Mr. Chaman Lal and his wife Krishna, a Hindu couple, was charged under blasphemy laws, for allegedly desecrating the Holy Quran. Their house was attacked and destroyed by an Islamic group in September 2005, at Swabi, a district of North West Frontier Province. They lost their property and were forced to migrate to another place.
  5. Several houses of Christian minority were destroyed and looted by the Islamic zealots at Lahore, after a blasphemy allegation against a Christian, Younis Masih, in September 2005.
  6. 8 Ahmadis were killed and 14 others wounded at Mandi Bahauddin near Lahore in October 2005, by unknown gunmen in motorbikes while the Ahmadis were reciting prayers in their place of worship.
  7. A mob attacked and destroyed 3 Churches (Catholic, Salvation Army and United Presbyterian), a Sisters' Convent, St. Anthony's School building, a girl's Hostel, a dispensary and a Pastor's house at Sangla Hills on 12 November 2005. About 450 Christian families living in Sangla Hills left their homes. The incident took place after an alleged desecration of Holy Quran by Yousaf Masih, a Christian. The allegations were motivated for settling scores regarding some money dispute between the accusers and the accused and had nothing to do with the alleged desecration.
  8. A Catholic Church was attacked at Kawanlit, district Sialkot on 3 February 2006. The furniture, windows and religious books were destroyed. There was a dispute between local Christians and Muslims on a piece of land. The court issued the orders in favor of the Christians and upon return from the Court's judgment, the Church was attacked by the local Muslims. In this attack two elderly women were badly injured. 70-year old Ms. Veero suffered multiple fractures on both legs.
  9. On 15 February 2006, St. Michael's Convent School, Elizabeth Girls High School and Edward Boys College were attacked and damaged by the religious zealots during protests at Peshawar, capital of North West Frontier Province. 3 mission hospitals at Peshawar, Bannu and Mardan, were also pelted with stones.
  10. On 18 February 2006, an award winning Christian singer Mr. A Nayyar was stopped by a few young men in the midnight in an apparent robbery bid. When they recognized him, he was beaten, humiliated and asked to recite Kalama-Tayyaba (Islamic proclamation of faith).
  11. On 19 February, a mob attacked St. Mary's Church, St. Xavier's Church and St. Mary's School at Sukkar (built in 1889). They stole valuable articles and set the Churches and vehicles on fire, damaged a school hall and totally destroyed a pastor's house. The attacks resulted from an abuse of blasphemy laws as Mr. Irfan, a Muslim convert, tried to implicate his Christian father-in-law, Mr. Saleem, in burning a copy of Holy Quran. After the investigation, Mr. Irfan, who set the ploy, confessed that he was blameworthy instead of his Christian father-in-law. Mr. Irfan is in police custody.
  12. Some unidentified men set fire to a Church in Sargodha on 28 Febuary. The fire damaged the main entrance of the church.
Vulnerability of Religious Minority

The local groups believe that the discriminatory legislation and the teaching of religious intolerance in public schools have created a permissible environment for the attacks. They also claim that the language which government officials and employees use constitutes an incitement to religious extremism.

The Ahmadis have to face legal bars to the practice of their faith after being declared out of Islam through a constitutional amendment in 1974. In 1984, the Government added to the Penal Code Section 298(c), an Ahmadi-specific law, which prohibits them from calling themselves Muslims or referring to their faith as Islam, from preaching or propagating their faith, from insulting the religious feelings of Muslims, etc. According to an Ahmadis report, 11 Ahmadis were killed and 60 were subjected to charges and penalties in religion-based cases in 2005.

Although other religious communities are able to worship freely, there are discriminatory policies against them. For example, the Hudood Ordinance impose elements of Quranic law on both Muslims and non-Muslims; the Blasphemy Laws provide death penalty for defiling Islam or its prophets, life imprisonment for defiling, damaging or desecrating the Quran, and 10 years' imprisonment for insulting the religious feelings of any citizen. These laws have a history of being abused to settle personal scores. People accused of blasphemy normally faced prolonged judicial procedure, and together with their communities, often become the target of the extremists.

(More information about the victims of the Blasphemy Laws and related injustices since 1998, are found in Hotline Asia Urgent Appeals UA980505(3), UA000525(8), UA001103(16), UA010905(9), SUA010113(1), SUA010802(3) and UA051007(6).)

The hate speeches in media and curriculum are also responsible for the growing religious intolerance in the country.

The public school curriculum was Islamized during the 1980s. According to a local campaign group, the textbooks flag conservative views towards other faiths, such as those describing past efforts by Hindus and Christians to antagonize Muslims, and emphasize the duty to battle against perceived religious enemies, resulting in the internalization of hate, anger and intolerance. Educators and activists say serious revisions of school books are essential to make a tolerant society.

All these local situation make it easy for extremists and others to abuse religion for their own personal interests. Thus Pakistan remains in a vulnerable position for violence in the name of religion.

SOURCES

AsiaNews
International Religious Freedom Report 2005 (www.state.gov/g/drl/rls/irf/2005/51621.htm)
Local Sources
South China Morning Post

Hotline Asia - http://www.acpp.org/
المصدر: 
Hotline Asia