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.

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Comment Sorting
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
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 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

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