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Pakistan: Stop Attacks on Minorities for Alleged Blasphemy; Repeal the Blasphemy Laws

Tuesday 18 August 2009, by siawi

HOTLINE ASIA

URGENT APPEALS

UA090813 (7)

13 August 2009

SUMMARY

A sequence of attacks on Christians started on 30 July 2009 in the village of Korian, Toba Tek Singh district in Punjab, then within 3 days, spread to a nearby Christian colony in Gojra.

The carnage originated in a wedding in the Korian village on 24 July 2009. Some Muslims accused three Christians of tearing paper with Quranic verses. The conflict was since resolved as the Muslim and Christian leaders asked the accused to apologize. However, on 30 July, the mosques of Korian and nearby villages started spreading the allegation of Christians desecrating the Quran, inciting attack on Christians. In the evening, a mob of about 3,000 people descended on Korian, demanding the accused for blasphemy to be handed over to them. The Christians ran away for security and the mob began looting property and burning Christians’ houses. As the rumour of desecration of Quran continued, the hostility towards all the Christians escalated in the district.

In the morning of 1st August, the local Ulema (Muslim legal scholars) took out a procession against the supposed 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) started attacking the colony and setting ablaze 68 houses. Six Christians, including four women and one child, were burnt alive, Mr. Hameed Masih, one of the accused, was shot, the belongings of the residents (cash, gold jewelry, T.V., air condition, computer, etc.) were looted and two Churches were ransacked. The policemen present did not try to control the mob as protesters entered the Christian locality.

After the continuous violence against the religious minorities, the atmosphere is very tense and the Christians in some specific settlements feel insecure. Local human rights organizations are joining the religious minorities to put pressure on the government to eliminate the discriminatory Blasphemy Laws. The leadership of the Catholic and Protestant Churches are drafting an appeal to the authorities requesting them to repeal the Blasphemy Laws since they do not serve the community with 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, aiming at collecting over 300,000 signatures.

*** Please respond before 30 August 2009 ***

ACTION REQUESTED

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:

1. Mr. Yousaf Raza Gillani,
Prime Minister of Pakistan,
- Prime Minister Secretariat, Islamabad, PAKISTAN.
- Fax: + 92-51-9204632, 9221596

2. Mr. Shehbaz Sharif,
- Chief Minister of Punjab,
- Chief Minister Secretariat,
- 90 – Shahrah-e- Quaid-e-Azam,Lahore, PAKISTAN.

3. Mr. Syed Masood Kausar,
- Federal Minister for Law and Justice,
- Pak – Secretariat, Islamabad, PAKISTAN.

4. Diplomatic representatives of Pakistan in your countries.

SAMPLE LETTER

*** This is a sample letter for your reference. Please try to write it on your own and avoid typing ‘cc ACPP’ on any part of your letter but send copies to us separately for monitoring purpose. ***

We write with deep concern about the insecurity of the religious minorities, especially Christians, in Pakistan, who are frequently becoming the target of the religious extremists.

Religious minorities are profoundly shocked and hurt by these heinous acts of destruction and causalities of the innocent citizens. The recent incident in Gojra is just one of the examples of abuse of the Blasphemy Laws and its far-reaching consequences: it has been abused to justify violence on the others, as well as spread disharmony and intolerance.

We appreciate the good initiative taken by the Prime Minister and the local administration who visited the victims in Gojra, ordered judicial inquiry of the incident and promised to abide by Articles 36 and 37 of the Constitution of Pakistan, which declares “protection of religious minorities and promotion social justice and eradication of social evils†.

In this alarming situation of religious minorities, the federal government should repeal the Blasphemy Laws which has become an instrument of creating hatred and abuse of religion and law, whereas the provincial government should enforce law and order to root out religious extremism. Also, all the culprits of the previous attacks on religious minorities must be brought to justice and given exemplary sentences. Overall, a comprehensive policy and strategy has to be formed by the Punjab government to eliminate expression of hatred through bill boards, wall chalking, printed materials and speeches against other religions and sects.

The killing and carnage in Gojra is not a solitary incident but shows a common phenomenon. In March 2009, a woman lost her life in Gujranwala after an attack on Church; in April, the attack on a Church and Christian settlement in Taiser Town, Karachi, one youth was killed and several were injured in a firing; 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 has been living there for several decades without serious problems before the carnage burst out. 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 was settled but re- triggered by the religious extremists.

In the name of blasphemy, the Christian community in Gojra was destroyed. While many Christian families fled the colony, some Christians retaliated to disperse the enraged Muslim mob and to stop their entrance into the locality, which injured few Muslim protesters. It is worrying that the vicious cycle of retaliation will deepen the hostility among different religions. Although the religious intolerance is mainly induced by the extremism, the legal and judicial system also perpetuates this situation.

The Blasphemy Laws

Pakistan 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 Blashpemy Laws, have become convenient means to nurture the atmosphere of religious intolerance and to settle personal scores, because of its ambiguity and provision to arrest people without prior permission of a magistrate. 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 suffered. According to data collected by the National Commission for Justice and Peace, 960 individuals have been charged with blasphemy in Pakistan since 1986. More than 100 cases of these charges were acquitted, as they were manifestedly lodged to persecute the accused for their religious beliefs and allegedly for financial or personal gains of the complainants. Consequently, a former Lahore High Court judge, Justice Arif Hussain Bhatti, was murdered by a religious extremist, reportedly because he has 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.

The Judicial System

In most of the cases of violence against religious minorities, police and local administration failed to act efficiently despite prior notice of tensions and rumors. It is also a trend that the culprits were never brought to justice after massive violent attacks inflicted on minorities. One of the reasons is intimidation of witnesses, which became more effective after 1990, when an Islamic provision was passed that allowed criminals to settle their crimes with victims’ families outside the court. According to Tahir Wasti, a former legal adviser to the Punjab provincial government, it gave a frightened family even greater incentive not to go through the pain of a prosecution. The provision has shaken the whole criminal justice system and encouraged all the criminals to use these loopholes to kill accusers, witnesses and whoever they wanted. Moreover, amid the hatred towards religious minorities, police was unwilling to irritate the religious extremists and reluctant to protect the victims.

Pakistan is passing through a very critical period, especially concerning its war against extremism. There is a military action continuing in North WesternFrontier Province and its tribal areas (Swat, Malakand, South Wazirastan and Bannu district). According to the source, militant groups were entwined with the Taliban, al-Qaeda and criminal gangs with international ambitions. The mix of violent crime and religious rhetoric is perpetuated by the failure of legal and judicial system, which should be overhauled as soon as possible. Abolition of the Blasphemy Laws is an essential step, first, to remove the excuse of criminals to justify their violence, and secondly, to show the political determination of the government to root out religious extremism in the country.

Sources
- National Commission of Justice and Peace - Pakistan
- Commission for Peace and Human Development
- Minorities Concern of Pakistan
- The Mirrors Updates
- The Washington Post
- International Herald Tribune

Yours sincerely,
- Linda Noch
- Coordinator

Asian Center for the Progress of Peoples
- 1/F, 52, Princess Margaret Road
- Kowloon, Hong Kong
- Phone: 852 - 2714 5123
- Fax: 852 - 2712 0152
- Website: www.acpp.org