Pakistan High Commissioner Pledges to Protect Christians
Press Release from Release International
The Pakistan High Commissioner has told Release International he will do all in his power to protect the rights of Christians at risk in his country. He addressed a vigil outside the High Commission in London on January 13 to present a 51,000-signature petition calling for equal treatment for Pakistan's minorities.
In an unusual move, the High Commissioner came out to greet those who had been taking part in the vigil.
'We welcome you,' said Mr Wajid Shamsul Hasan. 'We share your concerns, and we will do our utmost in the best possible way to provide security for the minorities and to alleviate their sufferings. We will take necessary measures to make sure no existing laws are abused against them.'
Release expressed particular concern for Asia Bibi, the first Christian woman to be sentenced to death for blasphemy - a charge she denies.
Extremists have vowed to assassinate her, even if she is given a reprieve. A cleric has put a half a million rupee bounty on her head; militants have threatened to blow her up in prison and her husband and children have gone into hiding.
The governor of Punjab, Salman Taseer, was murdered by his own bodyguard for calling for Asia’s release and for the repeal of the country's notorious blasphemy laws.
The High Commissioner said: 'Salman Taseer's crime was defending the right of a member of the minority. We will not surrender to such blackmail, we will fight them and we will eliminate them.'
Rounding on extremists who killed Mr Taseer and have threatened to murder Asia Bibi, Mr Hasan said: 'We are in the forefront of the war against terrorism. It's a war against those who abuse Islam, who declare themselves Muslims but are not. They are in my personal view more or less pagans, who have no consideration for human life.'
Release CEO Andy Dipper welcomed the High Commissioner’s pledge to secure justice for Christians and other minorities in Pakistan.
He said: 'We were warmly received. This petition shows many people care deeply about the situation in Pakistan and join us in calling for Christians there to be protected and given justice. Mr Hasan will represent those views at the highest levels in Pakistan.'
Bishop Michael Nazir-Ali, Release patron, joined Andy Dipper in discussions with the High Commissioner. He shared his encouragement: ‘We were very well received.
‘There was not only a receiving of the petition but an in-depth discussion of the legal and social situation in Pakistan and what can be done to ease the lot, not only of minorities, but of other people from the majority community who are in danger from some of these discriminatory laws.
‘Women in Pakistan recently have suffered a setback in terms of their fundamental freedoms and we are as concerned for them as we are for other groups.
‘There is greater awareness of concern in this country about what has happened in Pakistan and the deteriorating situation there.’
The full text of the petition is as follows:
To the High Commissioner for Pakistan, London:
We, the undersigned, wish to express our grave concern at the lack of justice for Christian minorities in Pakistan where false allegations against them can result in:
· lengthy detention pending trial, particularly, but not exclusively, in relation to abuse of blasphemy laws;
· unsound convictions by courts under pressure from extremists;
· physical assaults including rape against women (particularly those in domestic employment);
· abduction of girls who are forced into marriage.
We deplore the lack of action by officers of the law in these cases to protect the vulnerable and deal with the persecutors, who are frequently allowed to act with impunity. Further, we are particularly concerned by violent attacks on Christian communities such as at Korian and Gojra in Punjab Province.
In response to all these concerns, we strongly urge the Government to create within Pakistan a genuine culture of respect for all its citizens by safeguarding their human and legal rights, and by actively protecting its minority Christian population and their religious freedom.