News / Asia

Pakistan Struggles to Protect Religious Minorities

People gather outside the locked house of a Christian girl who was arrested in the suburbs of Islamabad, Aug. 20, 2012.
People gather outside the locked house of a Christian girl who was arrested in the suburbs of Islamabad, Aug. 20, 2012.
Ayaz Gul
ISLAMABAD — Authorities in Pakistan have come under growing criticism for being unable to protect the rights of religious minorities. Most of Pakistan's 180 million people are Sunni Muslim. Christians complain they are unfair targets of the country’s blasphemy laws that carry death penalty for anyone found guilty of defaming Islam, and the minority Hindu community says its members are migrating to India to avoid forced conversions.

The imprisonment in Pakistan this month of a young Christian girl accused of violating the country’s blasphemy laws is being cited as one of the latest incidents of growing intolerance toward religious minorities.

The incident occurred just outside Islamabad but details remain sketchy. The detained girl, Rimsha Masih, is said to be 11 years old and mentally handicapped.

Police arrested Rimsha after scores of angry Muslims gathered outside her house and accused her of burning pages inscribed with verses from the Quran. 

Defending human rights

The chairperson of the independent Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP), Zohra Yousuf, condemns the blasphemy charge against the Christian girl as "preposterous" and “beyond comprehension.”

"The fear that is prevalent in the [Christian] community is very disturbing because they are equal citizens of Pakistan and there is no justification for treating the community, the way they have been terrorizing them and forcing them to flee their village," said Yousuf.

Human rights groups have long demanded authorities reform of the blasphemy laws, saying religious fanatics misuse them by making unfounded allegations that have often led to violent mob attacks against minorities.

Yousuf welcomes the government’s quick intervention into the case, saying it raises hopes the girl will either be released soon or a proper investigation will determine the circumstances that led to the charges against her. 

"But the bigger issue of the misuse of the blasphemy laws is not being addressed. The government seems perhaps too scared. It does not have the political will to stand up to religious extremists and take a position," said Yousuf.

The World Council of Churches (WCC), an influential Christian organization, is also urging Pakistani leaders to protect minority groups against growing intolerance.

Mathews George Chunakara, the Council’s director for international affairs, says the group plans to hold an conference in Geneva next month (September 17-19) to increase awareness about the plight of religious minorities in Pakistan.

Blasphemy laws

Chunakara insisted that without reforming or repealing the blasphemy laws Pakistani leaders cannot prevent their misuse.

"Actually, we are providing an interfaith and inter-religious platform to address this issue from an inter-religious perspective, mainly to highlight the deteriorating situation of the human rights of minorities in Pakistan, and how the misuse of blasphemy law is happening and occurring every now and then in the Pakistani society," he said.

Local and international rights groups have demanded Pakistan at least repeal the death penalty as a first step toward reforming the law.

Dialogue for interfaith harmony

The Pakistan prime minister's advisor on national harmony, Paul Bhatti, says the government has initiated a dialogue to promote interfaith harmony and several proposals are under consideration to fix issues related to the blasphemy laws.

Bhatti says people who are prepared to kill and be killed, have been misled by radicals in the name of Islam because "they have been brain washed and there is a generation which is prepared for that."

In recent years several minority communities in Pakistan, including Shiite Muslims and Hindus have been targeted in attacks by religious extremists.

Suspected Sunni militants executed at least 25 members of a Shiite sect in the northern Mansehra region after taking them off their buses.

Leaders of the minority Hindu community in Sindh province have reported rising incidents of alleged forced conversions by Muslim clerics. They have also become regular targets of crimes such as kidnapping for ransom in the insurgency-hit Baluchistan province.

Ramesh Kumar Vankwani, head of Pakistan Hindu Council, says that because of security reasons around 50 Hindu families are migrating to India every month.

“There is no law to stop the forced conversions," said Vankwani.

Pakistani authorities say they are looking into the complaints of the Hindu minority and admit there is a need for legislation.

But critics are skeptical of the government's ability to amend the blasphemy laws, especially at a time when the country is preparing for new elections.

You May Like

Lion Cecil's Killing Sparks 'Canned Hunting' Debate in S. Africa

Conservationists believe incident, which triggered worldwide outrage, will reshape debate about practice in which hunters are allowed to target animals bred for hunting More

Taliban's New Leader Says Jihad Will Continue

Top US Afghan diplomat also meets with Pakistani, Afghan officials following news of Mullah Omar's death More

Environmentalists Issue Warning on Mekong Biodiversity

Scientists say decades of economic development, hydropower-dam construction, lax law enforcement and trafficking have taken their toll More

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: Godwin from: Nigeria
August 24, 2012 2:41 PM
God forsaken countries make and use laws that are mostly suitable in hell. The erudite governor of Punjab province became a martyr and his blood will be avenged when the obnoxious blasphemy law is repealed. Pakistan has boxed itself into a corner and its government is afraid to rule its people. In a country where corruption is among the highest in the world, what is blasphemy? What is worse than cheating the poor and needy population of daily bread? What is blasphemy in a country where people cannot express themselves freely? What is more insulting to God - the burning of paper or the killing of defenseless citizens? It is because the moslems believe that their god is the paper, that is why they assume their god is burned when the so-called quran is thrown into fire. Thank goodness the God of the Christians is a Spirit and cannot be violated by burning of paper - even if His word is written on it. The Christians out there should know that their Redeemer liveth, and due course He will send them help from heaven. It will only tarry and the seditious evil will be removed - AS GOD LIVES!

by: charlie from: california
August 24, 2012 10:51 AM
They aren't trying very hard.

ps, time to stop the drone attacks in their territory and cut off their funding. Stop bothering to change the Afghan future, an impossibility given our means and willingness, and stop sending supplies through Pakistani territory to a war we lost before started it. And recognize that other countries may not share our culture, but be still be friends, without benefits, but when it comes to genocide against Christians it's time we put Christians on an equal footing with the Jews the US caters to and bring this incident to the UN agencies responsible.

by: David James from: India
August 24, 2012 9:33 AM
It is very very serious issue Pakistanis are killing their minorities be it Christians, Sikhs, Hindus or Shia people.
In today's news I have learned that a Pakistani Christian boy’s mutilated body found in Punjab region of Pakistan.
This is not something new or one odd incident they occurred regularly and is a sign of intolerant society.
The Pak govt. is mute spectator against the prevailing extremism and hate.
Jesus Christ Save Christians, Father God protect us, Holy spirit guide us.
In Response

by: Tasleem Syed Ali Bukhari from: Dubai UAE
August 28, 2012 5:43 AM
I completely agree with you I am a Pakistani national Shia Muslim we suffer alot back home.

by: Tasawar from: Islamabad
August 24, 2012 8:43 AM
I personally visit the area, (Mehra Abad) this is an unplanned, un-authorized locality in suburbs of Islamabad. The land was previously used as agricultural land and later on the landlords (Maliks-A Cast) constructed small homes and rent it over to low income communities (mostly Christians). With the passage of time this locality become shanty town of thousands of houses with no roads, no portable water, poor electric system and worst law and order situation. This is unique locality of Christians where they are living along with Muslim community otherwise generally Christian community are separately build
According to Christian community on the day of incident suddenly a boy told people that this girl did blasphemy act inside her home and call in all people living around. People gathered and took hold of the poor family and within hours situation become worst. Almost 450 families left their houses and vacant the area. Houses were found locked and local people told that many people faced thefts in their houses. (a Man told that all of dowry of her sister stolen by some unknown people). People also told that there was boy who had relations with girl of that house and after getting failed to get her he made plan to fix blasphemy on the family
According to Muslims, the incident is 100% true and mother and girl both accept it and asking for pardon when police capture them.
The biggest issue is not that either blasphemy act was true or not, but real dilemma is that 450 Families left their houses and now living in threat somewhere in the City. More than 2500 School going children lost their schools which are going to open on 31 after summer vacations
While talking to Christian Fathers and religious leaders, they told that they are owning the families and trying to arrange food and daily needs. They refuse to take any kind of help (tents cash etc) but they are asking for permanent solutions by providing them living anywhere in the city
Tasawar Waris,
Researcher, Coordinator, Associate Producer
Dunya News
For more details tasawar.waris@dunyatv.tv
In Response

by: Tasleem Syed Ali Bukhari from: Dubai UAE
August 28, 2012 5:40 AM
Someone really needs to raise up there voice for such an event which has not happened for the first time in PAKISTAN i wonder why does it only happens in PAKISTAN why none of the HINDU's from across the border has accused any MUSLIM for blasphemy act ?? People of Pakistan use this as a revenge.. THIS HAS TO BE TAKEN CARE SHAME ON US.. AND AT THE END WE CALL OURSELVES MUSLIMS.. ASTAFARULLAH..

by: Abid from: Pakistan
August 24, 2012 8:23 AM
A liitle girl gets so much of American attention in Pakistan. How about showing some concern about thousands being killed in Mayanmar and North eastern state of Aasam. Perhaps its not politically correct at this moment. Hypocrisy at its best...in the new Pacific century.
In Response

by: Tasleem Syed Ali Bukhari from: Dubai UAE
August 28, 2012 5:32 AM
The little girl is getting so much of attention because she is innocent and being accused on the name of religion.. I am a Muslim myself and a Pakistani too but it is indeed very sad when i see minority being treated this way in Pakistan which not only includes Christians which also includes SHIA’S living in Pakistan.. Shame on those who does not feel sad on such occurrences. I am asshamed of being a PAKISTANI MUSLIM citizan..
In Response

by: Godwin from: Nigeria
August 24, 2012 2:58 PM
What gives a Pakistani right to live in other countries and be treated like human when they do not recognize freedom in their own country. A Pakistani should be ashamed to speak in public. They are still living in prehistoric age. No wonder the US provides them with virtually everything to see if it's possible to make Pakistan see light. But it seems this will take another century in the face of primitivity of its people, and antiquity of the blasphemy law that has unnerved everybody in the country. Who will bail the cat? It's a sorry situation - rather most pitiable.
In Response

by: joseph from: world
August 24, 2012 10:13 AM
because she is another example of the extreme intolerance of Pakistan towards its minority religions. This law is being used to persecute and terrorize innocents. The christians are as much citizens of Pakistan as the Sunnis but are treated worse than farm animals. Pakistan should be ashamed of how they treat religious minorities. The civilized world now believes that Pakistan is a failed country that not only cannot control its Muslim extremist terrorists but also will not protect its own people. this is very sad

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Astronauts Train Underwater for Deep Space Missionsi
|| 0:00:00
...    
🔇
X
George Putic
July 30, 2015 8:59 PM
Manned deep space missions are still a long way off, but space agencies are already testing procedures, equipment and human stamina for operations in extreme environment conditions. Small groups of astronauts take turns in spending days in an underwater lab, off Florida’s southern coast, simulating future missions to some remote world. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Astronauts Train Underwater for Deep Space Missions

Manned deep space missions are still a long way off, but space agencies are already testing procedures, equipment and human stamina for operations in extreme environment conditions. Small groups of astronauts take turns in spending days in an underwater lab, off Florida’s southern coast, simulating future missions to some remote world. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Civil Rights Leaders Struggled to Achieve Voting Rights Act

Fifty years ago, lawmakers approved, and U.S. President Lyndon Johnson signed, the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The measure outlawed racial discrimination in voting, giving millions of blacks in many parts of the southern United States federal enforcement of the right to vote. Correspondent Chris Simkins introduces us to some civil rights leaders who were on the front lines in the struggle for voting rights.
Video

Video Booming London Property a ‘Haven for Dirty Money’

Billions of dollars of so-called ‘dirty money’ from the proceeds of crime - especially from Russia - are being laundered through the London property market, according to anti-corruption activists. As Henry Ridgwell reports from the British capital, the government has pledged to crack down on the practice.
Video

Video Hometown of Boy Scouts of America Founder Reacts to Gay Leader Decision

Ottawa, Illinois, is the hometown of W.D. Boyce, who founded the Boy Scouts of America in 1910. In Ottawa, where Scouting remains an important part of the legacy of the community, the end of the organization's ban on openly gay adult leaders was seen as inevitable. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.
Video

Video 'Metal Muscles' Flex a New Bionic Hand

Artificial limbs, including the most complex of them – the human hand – are getting more life-like and useful due to constant advances in tiny hydraulic, pneumatic and electric motors called actuators. But now, as VOA’s George Putic reports, scientists in Germany say the future of the prosthetic hand may lie not in motors but in wires that can ‘remember’ their shape.
Video

Video Russia Accused of Abusing Interpol to Pursue Opponents

A British pro-democracy group has accused Russia of abusing the global law enforcement agency Interpol by requesting the arrest and extradition of political opponents. A new report by the group notes such requests can mean the accused are unable to travel and are often unable to open bank accounts. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video 'Positive Atmosphere' Points Toward TPP Trade Deal in Hawaii

Talks on a major new trade agreement among 12 Pacific Rim nations are said to be nearing completion in Hawaii. Some trade experts say the "positive atmosphere" at the discussions could mean a deal is within reach, but there is still hard bargaining to be done over many issues and products, including U.S. drugs and Japanese rice. VOA's Jim Randle reports.
Video

Video Genome Initiative Urgently Moves to Freeze DNA Before Species Go Extinct

Earth is in the midst of its sixth mass extinction. The last such event was caused by an asteroid 66 million years ago. It killed off the dinosaurs and practically everything else. So scientists are in a race against time to classify the estimated 11 million species alive today. So far only 2 million are described by science, and researchers are worried many will disappear before they even have a name. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports.
Video

Video Scientists: One-Dose Malaria Cure is Possible

Scientists have long been trying to develop an effective protection and cure for malaria - one of the deadliest diseases that affects people in tropical areas, especially children. As the World Health Organization announces plans to begin clinical trials of a promising new vaccine, scientists in South Africa report that they too are at an important threshold. George Putic reports, they are testing a compound that could be a single-dose cure for malaria.
Video

Video 'New York' Magazine Features 35 Cosby Accusers

The latest issue of 'New York' magazine features 35 women who say they were drugged and raped by film and television celebrity Bill Cosby. The women are aged from 44 to 80 and come from different walks of life and races. The magazine interviewed each of them separately, but Zlatica Hoke reports their stories are similar.
Video

Video US Calls Fight Against Human Trafficking a Must Win

The United States is promising not to give up its fight against what Secretary of State John Kerry calls the “scourge” of modern slavery. Officials released the country’s annual human trafficking report Monday – a report that’s being met with some criticism. VOA’s National Security correspondent Jeff Seldin has more from the State Department.
Video

Video Washington DC Underground Streetcar Station to Become Arts Venue

Abandoned more than 50 years ago, the underground streetcar station in Washington D.C.’s historic DuPont Circle district is about to be reborn. The plan calls for turning the spacious underground platforms - once meant to be a transportation hub, - into a unique space for art exhibitions, presentations, concerts and even a film set. Roman Mamonov has more from beneath the streets of the U.S. capital. Joy Wagner narrates his report.
Video

Video Europe’s Twin Crises Collide in Greece as Migrant Numbers Soar

Greece has replaced Italy as the main gateway for migrants into Europe, with more than 100,000 arrivals in the first six months of 2015. Many want to move further into Europe and escape Greece’s economic crisis, but they face widespread dangers on the journey overland through the Balkans. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Stink Intensifies as Lebanon’s Trash Crisis Continues

After the closure of a major rubbish dump a week ago, the streets of Beirut are filling up with trash. Having failed to draw up a plan B, politicians are struggling to deal with the problem. John Owens has more for VOA from Beirut.
Video

Video Paris Rolls Out Blueprint to Fight Climate Change

A U.N. climate conference in December aims to produce an ambitious agreement to fight heat-trapping greenhouse gases. But many local governments are not waiting, and have drafted their own climate action plans. That’s the case with Paris — which is getting special attention, since it’s hosting the climate summit. Lisa Bryant takes a look for VOA at the transformation of the French capital into an eco-city.

VOA Blogs