ASIA/PAKISTAN - Violence against Christians on the increase: Bishops of Pakistan issue latest

Lahore (Agenzia Fides) – The trend of violence against Christian communities “increased in 2009-2010”, the blasphemy law is a “sword of Damocles over minorities”; religious freedom “is reduced to a myth”, and “faced with apathy on the part of the government, it is necessary to take urgent action to protect human rights in Pakistan”: this was said in the latest 2009-2010 Annual Report on Religious Minorities in Pakistan, presented by the Justice and Peace Commission of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Pakistan. A copy of the Report was sent to Fides. The Report examines with data and circumstantiated episodes the phenomenon of social discrimination and religious intolerance in the country. “The Report, a work of documentation, contains information on the difficult conditions of religious minority groups, Christians in particular, in Pakistan. The principal problems are connected with the blasphemy law, with forced conversion and re-conversion, discrimination, violence, erosion of religious freedoms. The emerging picture is critical and deserves attention in Pakistan and abroad”, Fides learned from Fr Emmanuel Yousaf Mani, secretary of the Justice and Peace Commission. One chapter deals with damaged caused by the “blasphemy law”, “the law is a major concern– said Fr Mani – it is unjust and unfair and causes suffering by means of false accusation. The most recent case of 73 Rehmat Masih, a Catholic living in Faisalabad, is exemplary. Abuse of this law is a daily event: this is why we have launched a powerful campaign to have the law abolished”. The secretary told Fides: “Civil society in Pakistan supports the campaign. We have the support of 95% of the Muslim community. Only a small minority is against the move. But this small minority can condition and determine national policies in government and in parliament where they have great influence. Extremist groups also resort to intimidation. There is clearly little political will to abolish the law ”. According to the Report, misuse of the blasphemy law continues all over the country: in 2009 some 112 registered cases involved, 57 Ahmadi, 47 Muslims and 8 Christians. Since 1987 (then the law came into force ) 1,032 innocent people have been unjustly punished. Direct episodes of religious intolerance are also in the increase, according to the Report: 9 attacks on Christian churches and villages, some serious (in Gojra, Sialkot and Kasur) in which people were killed and others injured. The Report also deals with the question of property taken away from non Muslim groups (places of worship, temples, cemeteries belonging to Christians or other religious communities). Another chapter deals with the erosion of religious freedom, which takes place in a situation of total lack of information among the public: minority groups denied permission to build places of worship; Muslims wanting to change religion are threatened: in 2008 there were 414 cases of forced conversion to Islam of Christians and other believers, and between 2005-2009 the total number 622 of such cases registered were simply the tip of the iceberg. (PA) (Agenzia Fides 24/6/2010)

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