Question to Federal Minister for Minorities Affairs, Bishop Michael Nazir Ali and Bishop Azad Marshal: By Jonathan Shamoon


Can minorities enjoy equal opportunities so long these laws remain?
Campaign against unjust laws
Although Pakistan was founded as an Islamic state when it came into being in 1947, its constitution did not distinguish between Muslims and non-Muslims. Sadly, non-Muslims who once enjoyed a safe and peaceful life in Pakistan are now forced to live as second-class citizens in their own country, under a system that institutionalises inequality. A combination of islamisation, the imposition of sharia law, sectarianism, religious fanaticism and police incompetence and corruption has steadily eroded religious freedoms.
Government leaders, police and officials in the judicial system often collude in the victimisation of the poorest in society and minorities. In particular, the controversial Blasphemy Laws make defiling the Prophet Muhammad punishable by death whilst blaspheming against the Koran can lead to life imprisonment. More often than not, those in power to oppress and marginalize weaker segments of society misappropriate the Blasphemy Law. That includes Pakistan's more than two million Christians
Constitutional discrimination
The constitution of Pakistan declares that Islam is the state religion but it also states that adequate provisions should be made for minorities to profess and practice their religion freely. In practice, the government is responsible for enforcing laws that discriminate against religious minorities especially Christians. However, the constitution does not allow for a Christian or a representative of another religious minority to be a President or Prime Minister of the country.
Here is a brief presentation of some of the discriminatory laws:
The Blasphemy law
The Blasphemy law is part of Pakistan's Penal Code. It was introduced in 1860, ironically to protect the religious sentiments of the Muslim minority in the Indian sub-continent, against the Hindu majority.
By 1986, section 295-B and C of this law were legislated introducing an additional clause of life imprisonment for defiling the Holy Quran. In 1991, the Federal Shariah court struck down the additional clause of life imprisonment in section 295-C, and made death penalty mandatory upon conviction under his section.
Anyone can be charged with blasphemy and be immediately detained without any safeguards or the opportunity for bail. Under this law, the only evidence needed is one 'reliable' man's word. Ill-treatment and torture of the accused in custody are common practice. Judicial proceedings can take years, resulting in innocent victims languishing in jails with pending trials or appeal. Because the Blasphemy law is open to abuse it has become a powerful tool to ignite religious extremism, encourage hostility towards minority groups and give Islamic zealots opportunities to take the law in their own hands. In addition to this, public evidence from the judgments of superior courts in Pakistan shows that the Blasphemy law is being ruthlessly abused for settling personal scores.
During these last 10 years 892 people have been accused under this law and at least 25 people have been arbitrarily killed. Many Christians have been falsely accused of blasphemy under this law - often mischievously by people with selfish motives and the number is rising.
Christians in Pakistan are demanding the repeal of the 295-C section while at the same time Muslim fundamentalists are threatening the government with widespread protests and civil disobedience. They are demanding complete enforcement of the Sharia law.

Hudood Ordinance (Rape and Adultery)

Hudood, the plural of hadd, are punishments whose limits are set forth in the Quran or Sunnah. In 1979, as part of the continuing Islamisation of Pakistan, an entire new set of laws "Enforcement of Hudood Ordinance," became effective concerning certain criminal offenses. These laws provide Islamic punishments for:
(1) property crimes, such as theft or embezzlement;
(2) zina, which is fornication or adultery;
(3) qazf, which is falsely accusing another of zina.
Hadd punishments are very cruel and they range from whipping a certain number of "stripes" to death by execution or stoning. Specific punishments depend upon the degree of the offense.
What makes these laws discriminatory is that a non-Muslim can be charged and punished by laws set forth in the Quran and Sunnah which they might not know or be aware off.
Amendments of the Hadood law
The Hadood law was amended in 2006, by the Women's Protective bill.This billbrings charges of rape under the Pakistan Penal Code, which is based on civil law, not Sharia (Islamic law). Under the changes, adultery and non-marital consensual sex are still an offence but now judges would be allowed to try rape cases in criminal rather than Islamic courts. This does away with the need for four male witnesses and allows convictions to be made on the basis of forensic and circumstantial evidence. This law has been imposed on Christians and CLAAS is lobbying for exemption of Christians from the Islamic laws.
Law of Evidence (Qanoon-e-Shahadat)
Another discriminatory law is that of Qanoon-e-Shahadat. Under Islamic Qanoon-e-Shahdat order (enforced in 1984), the evidence of a non-Muslim is not admissible against a Muslim person. Only two male witnesses can testify while four Muslims women witnesses are equal to two male Muslims witnesses.
However, the evidence of non-Muslims may be acceptable if the accused is also a non-Muslim. The implications of this law are obvious in the abuse of non-Muslims who could be falsely accused by Muslims.
Blood Money (Qisas-o-Diyat)
'Qisas' means 'an eye for an eye' while 'diyat' refers to blood money for murder, or financial compensation in retribution for physical injury. This law is applied in cases of murder and injury but is discriminatory towards Christians and women due to the number of witnesses required in court to prove a case.
A falsely accused person can be charged with maximum punishment by only two male Muslim witnesses.
Other discriminatory laws
Christians face a number of problems because of other laws concerning marriage, divorce, guardianship and inheritance. For example, a Christian marriage can be annulled if one of the partners declares conversion to Islam.In cases of abduction of Christian women, the Muslim man can declare that his abducted wife has converted to Islam. Thus marriage, solemnised under the family laws of non-Muslims, can be dissolved with immediate effect.
Discrimination within the government
Religious discrimination and prejudice prevails within the government of Pakistan. There are no Christian government ministers, no Christians working in key government posts, no Christians appointed as ambassadors or judges.During the 2008 election there were no Christians directly elected in a parliament with 272 seats. Only 4 Christian MPs were nominated by the political parties through the proportionate representation system and therefore bound to comply with their party's agenda. None of the Christian women have also been nominated on the 60 reserve seats.
Educational discrimination
Christian students are discriminated against. They are forced to study Islam from the early years of education and when selections are made for higher education 20 extra marks are given to Muslim students who are Hafiz-e-Quran.This ordinance distinguishes between Muslim and non-Muslim students and diminishes the chances for some non-Muslim students obtaining admission in colleges and universities.
In 1972 the late Prime Minster Zulfiqar Ali-Bhutto made Islam the state religion and the government took responsibility for running Christian educational institutions. This act of nationalising Christian schools broke the educational backbone of the Christian community. As a result, successive generations of Christians have struggled to obtain an education. Thousands of Christians in towns and villages are often poorly educated and have no choice but to accept menial jobs.
Social discrimination
Lack of freedom of speech
The constitution of Pakistan states that 'subject to law, public order and morality, every citizen shall have the right to profess, practice and propagate his religion.' However, in this country where Islam is the state religion freedom of speech is constitutionally 'subject to any reasonable restrictions imposed by law in the interest of the glory of Islam.'
Lack of religious freedom
In Pakistan the conversion of a Muslim to Christianity is not allowed. Indeed, conversion away from Islam is considered apostasy, a denial of the prophet Muhammad (PBUH) and an insult to Islam. Murshid Masih converted to Christianity and was charged under the Blasphemy law. He was sentenced to death.
However, if a Christian converts to Islam he/she is not allowed to re-convert to Christianity because re-conversion away from Islam is considered apostasy. Kingery Masih is still in jail for his reconversion to Christianity.Inter-faith marriages are not allowed for Christian men and Muslim women. Islamic extremists often threaten Muslim women who marry Christians, as well as her husband and their families.
Forced conversion
Christian women and under-age girls in Pakistan have been subjected to kidnap, abduction and rape. In several cases, girls said to have eloped with their Muslim lovers were subsequently found to have been abducted and forcibly married to Muslim men or sold to them. These girls are rarely allowed to meet their parents following claims they have embraced Islam.
These girls are: considered apostate if the reconvert to Christianity and can suffer dire consequences. Such laws are tools for abusing Christian women who work as servants or slaves in brick kilns.
The plight of women
In Pakistan often violence against women begins in their childhood. Girls are not allowed to play games like boys that can help in their mental and physical development. Also they are not encouraged to receive an education and often, especially in poor families they are forced to go into domestic service or marriage in order to provide for their families.
Today sexual assault on women, including rape, remains one of the most common crimes. The Human Rights Commission estimated that rape occurs every three hours. And what's worse many cases of rape go unreported because women fear their attackers. Hundreds of women have suffered from being wrongfully charged with adultery. Although most women tried in such circumstances are acquitted, they have to endure the stigma of suspicion.

There are several other laws that discriminate Pakistani minorities.

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