Freedom House Calls On Pakistani President To Protect Religious Minorities
Removal of Religious Discrimination Laws Also Urged
March 20, 2002
by Center for Religious Freedom
Freedom House's Center for Religious Freedom today called on Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf to protect Pakistan's religious minorities in the wake of a grenade attack Sunday on a Protestant church in Islamabad, Pakistan's capital. Five people were killed in the attack, thought to be carried out by Islamic militants.
Freedom House also urged President Musharraf to clampdown on violent Islamic extremists in Pakistan who have stepped up their attacks of late.
Sunday's attack is the latest in a series of deadly assaults against religious minorities in recent months. In October 2001, gunmen killed 15 Protestants in a Catholic church in Bahawalpur. On January 13, 2002, a bomb damaged a Protestant church in Islamabad. On February 26, 2002 minority Muslims were targeted when gunmen killed ten people praying in a Shia mosque in Rawalpindi. In the last few weeks, Sunni Muslim gunmen are suspected of shooting to death several Shia doctors.
"These attacks take place against a background of Islamic extremism, which still flourishes in Pakistan," said Dr. Paul Marshall, a senior fellow at the Center for Religious Freedom. "While President Musharraf has taken important steps by banning extremist groups, arresting those who foment violence, regulating schools that teach religious hatred, and reforming the religiously-based electoral rules, many important problems have still not been addressed," he said. "Few of those arrested have been charged and many have been released, all while Pakistan still maintains blasphemy and other laws that make non-Muslims second-class citizens."
In the last two decades, Pakistan has seen the rise of an extreme version of Islamic sharia law. One part of this legal code gives the death penalty for those convicted of blaspheming against Islam. Currently a Christian, Ayub Massih, is facing execution under this law.
Under sharia law, the testimony of a non-Muslim is given significantly less weight in a blasphemy case. A Christian can be executed based on the testimony of a single Muslim. In some cases Christians who have been acquitted have been killed by angry mobs. Muslim radicals have murdered Muslim judges who have granted acquittals to Christians.
While President Musharraf has in the past said he would abolish the blasphemy law, he has backed away from fundamental changes.
"As long as Pakistan has laws that make Christians second class citizens, it provides an atmosphere that prompts attacks like this massacre," said Dr. Marshall. "We call on President Musharraf not only to act forcefully against those responsible but also to remove religiously discriminatory laws in Pakistan. We also call on the U.S. government to urgently raise these issues with Pakistan."
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