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Pakistani bishop criticises his country’s lack of protection for religious minorities

20 August 2021

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Pakistani activists of Rawadari Tehreek march in a rally on National Minorities Day, in Lahore, on Wednesday of last week

Pakistani activists of Rawadari Tehreek march in a rally on National Minorities Day, in Lahore, on Wednesday of last week

PAKISTAN is failing to fulfil the vision of its founding father by its lack of protection for the rights of religious minorities in Pakistan, the Moderator of the Church of Pakistan has said.

Speaking on National Minorities Day, Wednesday of last week, the Moderator, Dr Azad Marshall, said that Pakistan’s founding father, Muhammad Ali Jinnah, had pledged to protect the rights of non-Muslims as he set out his vision for the new country in 1947.

“He guaranteed religious freedom and civil liberties on equal terms, and called for giving up historical prejudices of race, colour, caste, and creed to build a cohesive society,” Dr Marshall said. “Jinnah wanted to see a tolerant, progressive, liberal, and egalitarian Pakistan, but unfortunately I think that we, as a nation, have seemingly failed to adopt his vision.”

Although successive governments have claimed to protect non-Muslims, the continued forced conversions of girls, faith-based violence, and the misuse of blasphemy laws showed that those from minority faiths were not treated as equals, he said.

A new single national curriculum for all schools is also failing those from minority communities.

He continued: “We have already expressed our concerns over the inclusion of religious content in secular subjects. Our education policy must incorporate the concept of human rights, social justice, peaceful coexistence, and non-discrimination, and we hope that the incumbent government will pay heed to our request.”

He called on the Pakistani government to implement in full the Supreme Court of Pakistan’s 2014 ruling to protect minority rights and to encourage religious tolerance.

Pakistan is ranked as the fifth most dangerous country to be a Christian, on the World Watch List compiled by the charity Open Doors.

The charity, which compiles the list each year, says that girls are at risk of abduction and rape and forced conversion to Islam, and that blasphemy laws are used to target Christians.

The Home Secretary, Priti Patel, last month met campaigners trying to secure asylum for a Pakistani Christian girl who is in hiding after being forced to convert and marry her kidnapper (News, 23 July). Maira Shahbaz was abducted aged 14 last year and raped, but managed to escape months later. She is now forced to live in hiding owing to death threats. Her case is supported by charities, bishops, and MPs.

The Bishop of Truro, the Rt Revd Philip Mounstephen, has said that Maira’s case was a “test case for the UK Government’s commitment to put freedom and religion front and centre in its foreign policy”.

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