ISLAMABAD: Various Church groups urge the European Union to raise the matter of increasing religious intolerance and persecution of religious minorities in Pakistan, with the Government of Pakistan.
Legislative bodies of Churches and ecumenical groups from Pakistan and many European nations in recent times gathered in Brussels to have a discussion about this issue at the headquarters of the European Union.
The advocates of this issue spent two days of promoting and exchanging ideas with various bodies of the EU in Brussels on June 24 and 25 about the laws which are often used to target non-Muslims in Pakistan. The highest penalty for those found at fault is death.
“Partners of the Pakistani government should take the initiative to discuss this with the leaders of the new government of Pakistan and urge them to repeal the controversial provisions of the blasphemy law,” said Bishop Samuel Azariah, moderator of the Church of Pakistan and a member of World Council of Churches executive committee.
In a most topical case, 14-year-old Pakistani Christian girl, Rimsha Masih was detained for alleged blasphemy last year and forced into hiding for fear of her life eventually vacated her homeland and moved to Canada, fearing for her life.
Extremist parties in Pakistan strongly oppose calls for alteration in the blasphemy laws and outstanding political figures such as Salman Taseer (the former governor of Punjab) and Shahbaz Bhatti (the Federal Minister for Minorities) have been assassinated for their opposition to these laws.
The meeting was followed by an international hearing on the “Impact of Blasphemy Law in Pakistan” instigated by the world church body in Geneva in September last year.
“When the State and constitution make preference on the basis of religion, they end up violating the rights of their citizens, said Peter Jacob, director of the Justice and Peace Commission of the Roman Catholic Church in Pakistan.
“The blasphemy law is one among other laws that form a whole system of discrimination against religious minorities in Pakistan,” said Jacob. “The discrimination we find in the constitution and a state policy translates into extremism and general intolerance in the society.”
They visited the European External Action Service and MEPs Dennis de Jong and Peter van Dalen, who are co-presidents of the European Parliament Working Group on Freedom of Religion or Belief (EPWG on FoRB).
The ecumenical team urged the EU to use its institutional and diplomatic contacts to address the deteriorating situation of persecution against religious minorities in Pakistan.
Prof. Göran Gunner of the Church of Sweden said the EU-Pakistan strategic dialogue initiated in 2012 is an effective way for the two sides to be engaged in constructive discussions and to express shared views on regional and international issues of mutual concern.
“This mechanism should be used as an effective way to raise questions on human rights violations and persecution of religious minorities in Pakistan,” said Gunner.