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Church Report Condemns Pakistan's Intolerance Toward Non-Muslims

A 12-year-old Christian girl's ordeal sheds further light on the plight of religious minorities.

BY ANTO AKKARA

| Posted 10/21/11 at 11:16 AM

 

LAHORE, Pakistan — Human-rights activists in Pakistan and outside are aghast over the plight of a 12-year-old Christian girl who escaped the clutches of her Muslim abductor nine months later.

Arif Masih, the father of the kidnapped girl (whose name was withheld), is a government street sweeper in Lahore. He filed a complaint with the police soon after his daughter was abducted on Christmas Eve 2010. But the police never bothered to investigate the crime while the abductor repeatedly raped the girl and even forcibly converted her to Islam until she managed to escape and call her parents from a public telephone booth.

The police refused to order a medical exam of girl. The magistrate who recorded her statement after she appeared in court has not assigned any protection for her security. A link to the report from Asian Human Right Commission can be found here.

A Hong Kong-based human-rights group in its appeal calling for protest letters to be sent to the Pakistan government pointed out, “The police have warned the Christian parents that it would be better to hand over the girl to her ‘legal’ husband (the rapist); otherwise, a criminal case will be filed against them.”

“This shows the vulnerability of the Christians and other religious minorities here [in Pakistan],” Michele Chaudhry, a Catholic and spokeswoman of All Pakistan Minorities Alliance (APMA), said Oct. 13.

Earlier, the APMA, in a statement, had condemned “the inhumane and barbaric atrocity” perpetrated on the Christian girl and inaction of the Pakistani police and judicial system to ensure justice and security to the girl.

“This is not an isolated incident. Atrocities like this are occurring frequently,” pointed out Chaudhry.

In fact, the kidnapped girl’s travails unfolded even as the Catholic Church cautioned against increasing religious intolerance in Pakistan with its exhaustive compilation of the suffering of religious minorities in Pakistan in its “Human Rights Monitor 2011.”

“Pakistan is fast becoming a state that will be habitable only for extremists,” decried the report of the National Commission for Justice and Peace (NCJP) of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Pakistan that was made public on Sept. 13.

The report pointed out that “religious bigots hold the view that only Muslims (as defined by them) have the right to live in this country and that all non-Muslims are infidels who deserve to be killed.”

“The [religious] intolerance is certainly worsening, and that is what we are worried about,” Father Emmanuel Yousaf Mani, director of the NCJP, told the Register.


‘Kafir’

To indicate the depth of the religious intolerance, the report cited the treatment meted out to the dead body of a Hindu victim when all 152 passengers died in a plane crash near Islamabad on July 28, 2010.

While the names of the Muslim victims were inscribed on the coffins, the coffin of Prem Chand, a Hindu social activist, only had the derogatory inscription Kafir (nonbeliever). This took place at the Pakistan Institute of Medical Sciences in Islamabad, the premier medical center run by the government.

The elaborate 146-page report has documented incidents of atrocities on Christians and other minorities: blasphemy cases, grabbing of minority properties, bias in educational texts, discrimination and harassment at employment, and abduction, forced conversion and marriage of young Christian and Hindu women to Muslims.

The study listed with detail major incidents of atrocities and harassment during 2010 against religious minorities, comprising mostly of Christians, Hindus and Ahmadis, an Islamic sect not recognized as Muslim in Pakistan alone, in the nation where nearly 95% of its 180 million people are Muslims.

The draconian blasphemy law that continued to be misused to settle personal and property disputes against religious minorities is the topic of one chapter. It listed cases of blasphemy since 1986 and pointed out that, of the 1,081 persons charged under blasphemy, 138 cases were against Christians (only 2% of the population). Similarly, 454 cases were filed against Ahmadis (4 million out of 180 million).

Of the 40 blasphemy cases registered in 2010, 15 of them were against Christians. Similarly, of the 37 killed in an extrajudicial manner after being charged with blasphemy since 1986, 18 were Christians.

Even the educational curriculum, the report noted, is “biased towards religious minorities … and [these] students were publicly ridiculed or even beaten by teachers because of their faith.”

The study cited an incident in which 11-year-old Nadia Iftikhar was severely beaten by her teacher when the girl said that she was both a Pakistani and a Christian. The teacher shouted at Nadia that, according to the school textbook, all Pakistanis were Muslims, before thrashing her.

The report has also documented in detail half a dozen incidents of young women, including teenagers who have been kidnapped, raped and forced to convert to Islam and marry their abductors. Those who resisted had been killed, and their parents have been harassed for reporting the cases to the police, who turn a blind eye to the perpetrators of such crimes.

Amid such worsening religious intolerance, the Catholic Commission has urged the government to bring out major constitutional changes by implementing “human-rights frame work and standards.”

“Changes in laws and public policies are necessary to ensure the restoration of their civil, political, social, cultural and economic rights” of religious minorities, pointed out the commission.

Among four dozen recommendations and concrete steps suggested by the commission towards this goal, the prominent ones are setting up of “two independent and permanent commissions,” one for human rights and the other for minorities’ rights, “with the powers of a tribunal to entertain complaints and provide timely redress.”

“We have sent the report to all the key departments of the government, and we are waiting for the government response,” said Father Mani when asked about the government response to the report prepared by the Church.

Besides urging the government to allow the U.N.’s special rapporteur on religious tolerance to visit Pakistan to assess the situation, the Catholic Commission also called for amending “divisive laws that discriminate on the basis of religion and are sources of human-rights violations,” in an apparent reference to the draconian blasphemy law.


Shabhaz Bhatti

Shabhaz Bhatti, the 42-year-old Catholic minister for religious minorities in federal government, was sprayed with bullets in his car on March 2 in Islamabad for speaking out against the blasphemy law. Bhatti had become a target for Islamic fundamentalists after he initiated, along with Salman Taseer, the governor of Punjab province, a clemency petition in November 2010 for Aasia Bibi, the Christian mother of five who had been earlier sentenced to death on a trumped-up blasphemy charge.

Taseer was assassinated on Jan. 4 by his own security guard, who boasted that he killed him for daring to call the blasphemy law a “black law.”

Though the security guard was sentenced to death by a trial court on Oct. 1 for the assassination, Islamic fundamentalist outfits have been protesting the death sentence for the man they have hailed a hero.

Justice Syed Pervez Ali Shah of the anti-terrorism court, who had boldly declared that the governor’s assassination was “a heinous crime” and convicted the assassin to death, himself had to go underground following threats from the Islamic fundamentalists.

“Now, even the life of the judge [who convicted Qadri] is in danger, and he has gone on long leave,” said Chaudry. “Nobody knows where he is now.”

Register correspondent Anto Akkara writes from Bangalore, India.