Pakistan: Attacks on minorities for alleged blasphemy
On the morning of 1st August, the local Ulema (Muslim legal scholars) led a procession against the alleged desecration and approached the Christian colony. In the afternoon, the mob, led by some armed and masked men (belonging to a banned religious organization, Sipah-i-Sahaba), attacked the colony and set fire to 68 houses. Six Christians, including four women and one child, were burnt alive, Mr. Hameed Masih, one of the accused, was shot, the residents’ belongings (cash, gold jewelry, T.V., air conditioning unit, computer, etc.) were taken and two Churches were ransacked. The policemen present did not try to control the mob.
The continuous violence against the religious minorities that has followed these events has created a very tense environment, and there is a feeling of insecurity amongst Christians in some settlements. Local human rights organizations are joining with religious minorities in order to pressure the government into eliminating the discriminatory Blasphemy Laws in effect in Pakistan. The leadership of the Catholic and Protestant Churches are drafting an appeal to the authorities requesting that the Blasphemy Laws be repealed, since these laws infringe upon the community’s right to freedom of religion. The National Commission for Justice and Peace has launched a petition to repeal the Blasphemy Laws, which will continue until mid-September 2009, and aims to collect over 300,000 signatures.
Please write polite letters expressing your concern about the violence against Christians in Pakistan and request the authorities to:
- repeal the Blasphemy Laws since they do not serve to ensure religious, as well as social harmony;
- ensure that all the culprits of the previous attacks on religious minorities be brought to justice and given exemplary sentences; and
- form a comprehensive policy and strategy to eliminate hate speech and violence against other religions and sects.
Please send letters to:
Mr. Asif Ali Zardari
President of Pakistan
President House, Islamabad, PAKISTAN.
Fax: +92-51-9270266, 9270269
Send copies to:
Mr. Yousaf Raza Gillani,
Prime Minister of Pakistan,
Prime Minister Secretariat, Islamabad, PAKISTAN.
Fax: + 92-51-9204632, 9221596
Mr. Shehbaz Sharif,
Chief Minister of Punjab,
Chief Minister Secretariat,
90 – Shahrah-e- Quaid-e-Azam,Lahore, PAKISTAN.
Mr. Syed Masood Kausar,
Federal Minister for Law and Justice,
Pak – Secretariat, Islamabad, PAKISTAN.
Diplomatic representatives of Pakistan in your countries.
13 August 2009
Sources: HOTLINE ASIA
The killing and carnage in Gojra is not a solitary incident but instead shows a widespread phenomenon. In March 2009, a woman lost her life in Gujranwala after an attack on a Church; in April, in another attack on a Church and Christian settlement in Taiser Town, Karachi, one youth was killed and several were injured in a shooting; in June, 57 houses were destroyed in Kasur Town.
It is possible that communities with different religions and sects can live in harmony. The Christian community in Korian had been living in relative peace for several decades before this violence erupted. After the attacks in Gojra, some Muslims even gave shelter to their terrified Christian neighbours or tried to help in other ways while the storm of hatred and destruction raged around them all. In fact, the hostility against the Christians in Korian had been settled, but was later re-ignited by religious extremists.
In the name of blasphemy, the Christian community of Gojra was destroyed. While many Christian families fled the colony, some attempted to disperse the enraged Muslim mob and to prevent their entrance into the colony, which injured a few Muslim protesters. It is worrying that the vicious cycle of retaliation will deepen the hostility among different religious groups. Although religious intolerance is primarily the product of extremism, the legal and judicial system also perpetuates this situation.
The Blasphemy Laws:
The Pakistani Penal Code was Islamicized in the 1980s during General Zia ul Haq’s regime in order to defend the honor of the Holy Quran, the Holy Prophet of Islam, his wives and other holy personages of Islam. The amended order, known as the Blasphemy Laws, has become a convenient mechanism – due to its ambuiguity and provision to arrest people without the prior permission of a magistrate – for nurturing an atmosphere of religious intolerance and the settling of personal scores. For details, please refer to UA980505(3), UA000525(8), UA001103(16) and UA051007(6).
Due to the ambiguity of the Blasphemy Laws, both Muslims and non-Muslims have suffered. According to data collected by the National Commission for Justice and Peace, 960 individuals have been charged with blasphemy in Pakistan since 1986. Over 100 of these cases were acquitted, as they were clearly lodged both to persecute the accused for their religious beliefs and to extort financial and/or personal gains for the complainants. Consequently, a former Lahore High Court judge, Justice Arif Hussain Bhatti, was murdered by a religious extremist, reportedly because he had acquitted a blasphemy case. A number of lawyers and journalists have also been harassed for defending people accused of blasphemy and campaigning against the Blasphemy Laws. The Blasphemy Laws are not only a convenient provision for the religious extremists to eliminate their enemies and intimidate civilians, but also for criminals to legitimize their violence.