WCC urges protection of religious minorities in Pakistan

On a recent visit to Pakistan, a World Council of Churches (WCC) delegation met with prime minister Syed Yusuf Raza Gilani, religious leaders, civil society organizations and UN representatives urging protection of religious minorities, especially against the misuse of blasphemy law in the country.

The delegation was led by Rev. Kjell Magne Bondevik, former prime minister of Norway, and current moderator for the WCC Commission of the Churches on International Affairs.

When speaking with the prime minister the delegation’s focal point of discussion was Pakistan’s controversial blasphemy law, which has been misused more often against the Christians. They also said interfaith harmony and solidarity with the Pakistani churches was the main objective of the visit. They met the prime minister on 20 December in Islamabad. The visit was 19 to 20 December.

Bishop Samuel Azariah, a WCC Executive Committee member, moderator of the Church of Pakistan and delegation member, called churches “a moral voice of conscience” in the country. “Christians have played a significant role in the development of Pakistan. Discriminatory laws are denial to this contribution, and add nothing but fear and insecurity of the Christian community,” said Azariah. 

“On behalf of the churches, we have raised these concerns before the prime minister, and have put forward our stance in support of the values for equality, interfaith harmony and just society, that we envision for our country,” he added. The blasphemy law in Pakistan has been criticized widely for its ambiguity and misuse, especially against the religious minorities, which comprises of 3% of the populatio n including the Christian community.

The blasphemy law known as 295 B and C was reinforced in late 1970s by then military ruler General Zia-ul-Haq. Since then the law has been abused to settle personal scores and inland disputes, victimizing a large number of people including Christians. Only this year prominent political personalities like Salman Taseer, governor of Punjab and Shahbaz Bhatti, a Christian federal minister for minorities were assassinated for their opposition to the blasphemy law. Civil society organizations, including the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, have been demanding the repeal of the blasphemy law for some time now.

Bondevik expressed deep concern over the abuse of blasphemy law, implying that  Pakistani government should ensure the equal rights of all its citizens, regardless of their faith and religious beliefs. Bondevik also made a reference to the delegations’ meeting with the Pakistan Parliamentary Standing Committee on Human Rights, and discussion on the implementation and monitoring of the  blasphemy law.  The delegation pointed out the urgent need for legislative reforms. They critiqued the role of the media in not doing
enough to create a positive dialogue for the protection of the religious
minorities, and often adding to the stereotypes instead.

The delegation also met with a group of Muslim leaders represented by Qazi Abdul Qadeer Khamosh, a prominent Islamic scholar and highlighted the role of interfaith cooperation for a peaceful and religiously tolerant society.  Along with Bondevik and Azariah, the
delegation also included the Rt. Rev Mano Rumalshah, Bishop Emeritus of Peshawar and Tara Tautari, executive secretary of the WCC General Secretariat, who visited churches in Lahore and Islamabad.