Pakistani leaders tout tolerance amid ongoing persecution
Persecution | Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif claims nation will soon be known as ‘minorities-friendly’
by Julia A. Seymour
Posted 2/06/17, 12:08 pm
Pakistan’s prime minister claimed last month the country will soon be recognized for being “minorities-friendly.” But recent legislative and court decisions illustrate just how far away that day is for Christians and Hindus.
Speaking at one of the most sacred Hindu sites in Pakistan on Jan. 11, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif said the country is taking steps “to better the lives of minority groups.” According to The Times of India, Sharif ordered the rebuilding of the Katas Raj Temples Complex where he spoke.
CLAAS UK, an advocacy group for Pakistan’s persecuted Christians, welcomed the remarks and urged action over the “government’s biased and discriminatory policies” and issues concerning religious minorities.
“Telling them that he is their prime minister too is not enough, but treating them as equal citizens of Pakistan is more important and I hope the prime minister will look into this matter,” CLAAS UK Director Nasir Saeed said.
But within weeks of Sharif’s statement, Christians in Pakistan faced another injustice.
On Jan. 28, a court acquitted every suspect in the 2013 attacks on the Joseph Colony, a Christian neighborhood near Lahore. Infuriated by a blasphemy allegation, thousands of Muslims attacked the community, vandalizing homes and burning 178 houses, 18 shops and two churches.
The prosecutor general said “the evidence was not enough to prove the crime” against the more than 100 suspects on trial, World Watch Monitor reported. It is up to the chief minister of Punjab to decide whether or not to appeal the verdict.
William Stark of International Christian Concern said plenty of evidence exists to corroborate the Joseph Colony attacks, including video footage on the internet. But Stark noted the court’s acquittal of Muslims accused of crimes against religious minorities is “typical” for Pakistan: “It just goes along with the tradition of impunity being enjoyed by those who commit violence against religious minorities.”
Meanwhile, a man whose alleged blasphemy started the attack, Sawan Masih, remains in jail awaiting appeal of his death sentence. Masih claims his neighbor accused him of blasphemy because of a property dispute.
In addition to high-profile court cases, legislative setbacks prompted World Watch Monitor to label Sharif’s optimistic remarks “premature.”
The Sindh province governor recently sent back a bill meant to prohibit forced conversions to Islam after the provincial assembly passed it. He told them to “reconsider the legislation,” and take into account the views of the Council of Islamic Ideology and others, The Indian Express reported in January.
The same month, the Senate Committee on Human Rights announced it would discuss proposed reforms to the Islamic Republic’s severe blasphemy laws based on an old senate report calling for clarification of the law, Reuters reported.
“So we convinced other senators that here we have a chance, we have a starting point, we have this report in hand. Let’s debate it and see how we can prevent abuse of this law,” Senator Farhatullah Babar said.
The head of Pakistan’s Ulemi Council of Muslim clerics opposed such debate and said “no one can even think about changing this law.”
Finance Minister Ishaq Dar also said lawmakers would make “no compromise” on blasphemy laws, according to AbbTakk TV.
Julia A. Seymour
Julia has worked as a writer in the Washington, D.C., area since 2005 and was a fall 2012 participant in a World Journalism Institute mid-career class conducted by WORLD editor in chief Marvin Olasky in Asheville, N.C. Follow Julia on Twitter @SteakandaBible.