Fighting religious intolerance in Pakistan

Christopher Sajid

Religious minorities in Pakistan represent 5% of the country’s 180 million inhabitants. Three per cent are Christians. Christopher Sajid, President of the Pakistani organisation Human Friends Organisation (HFO) which lobbies for protection of religious minorities, describes the situation for Pakistani Christians. In May 2015, the Emergency Fund for Human Rights Defenders intervened to reinforce security measures at the HFO headquarters in Lahore.

Christians represent the most significant religious minority in Pakistan. Persecuted because of their faith, they are particularly vulnerable and marginalised.

Riots, bombings, false accusations of blasphemy, kidnappings and forced conversions have become very common. Churches, houses, hospitals and churches run by Christians are pillaged. Religious books and sacred art are burned. The goods and cattle of Christians are destroyed.

Under the rule of General Zia-ul-Haq, serious penalties to punish blasphemy and other activities considered to be offensive to Islam were included in the Criminal Code. Article 295 section B punishes the desecration of the Koran with life in prison. According to section C of the same article, any statement considered to “degrade” the Prophet Mohammad is punishable by death. Allegations of blasphemy – false, for the most part – can bring about long periods of detention and violence against Christians and other religious minorities. The law does not require that proof to be provided to support this kind of accusation. According to a number of reports and statistics, hundreds of people have been accused of blasphemy in this way. A number of them have been killed – sometimes during their period of imprisonment – or are still in prison. Asia Bibi, whose case is known the world over, was sentenced to death following a false accusation of blasphemy. HFO is supporting her in prison and is providing aid to her family.

In all societies, the role of religion should be to create a climate that engenders peace, stability, respect for human dignity and harmony within the community. The growing tendency towards religious extremism and intolerance that are now reaching new heights mark one of the most backward periods in the history of Pakistan.

How is HFO facing this situation? Our organisation is carrying out surveillance, investigation and advocacy activities in Pakistan and internationally. We are also looking after people who are being persecuted, offering them a place to stay, the possibility of relocation, and legal assistance, depending on their needs. With some of our activities, we are aiming to change things in the long-term. By making people more aware of freedom of religion and mutual tolerance, we seek to promote equality and acceptance within different religious communities.

 

Christopher Sajid

Human Friends Organization

 

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