[PCP] Global Minorities Alliance, which fights for the rights of persecuted minority communities the world over, has documented that the discrimination facing communities does not just come in the form of violence on the streets, but also comes through institutional and systematic discrimination in the law courts and in the police stations.
“Subsequent Governments have failed to protect and safeguard the rights of minorities,” says Shahid Khan, author of the report and Vice-Chairperson of Global Minorities Alliance (GMA). “Instead they have feasted upon the weaknesses and vulnerabilities of the smaller minority groups by introducing laws which further pushed them deep into a sea of despair, injustice and inequality.”
In the report Invisible Citizens of Pakistan: Minorities in Focus, released by GMA today (16 March), the human rights organisation details the various minority groups in Pakistan (such as Christians, Ahmadis and Hindus) and the situations they are facing: discriminatory laws, a move towards Islamization at the expense of non-Muslim groups, a compromised law enforcement structure, the abuse of minority women, sectarian violence, and the destruction of minority religious places of worship.
This was demonstrated today in an attack by an angry mob on a Hindu dharamshala (community centre) in Larkana, Sindh province, Pakistan, following accusations of burning pages from the Quran. “GMA strongly condemns this attack and urges the Pakistan Government to rebuild this desecrated building as a sign to the community that their rights are to be upheld,” said Mr Khan.
The report highlights many examples of where minority communities have been unfairly targeted, including specific cases where people have been unfairly punished, imprisoned or killed, either directly or indirectly because of their minority status.
The examples show that the victims of persecution come from all social stratums, from teenage Hindu girls at risk of forced conversion, to the Federal Minister for Minority Affairs, Shahbaz Bhatti and the Governor of Punjab, Salman Taseer, who were gunned down by extremists.
“Minorities are seen as non-entities and ‘invisibles’ in today’s Pakistan with no equal, fundamental and constitutional rights. Where a governor, a judge or a minister is not safe, what hope does a vulnerable member of a minority community have?” says Mr Khan.
The report has been sent to political and religious leaders in the UK and worldwide, and has been well received.
Responding to the report, Humza Yousaf MSP, Minister for External Affairs and International Relations in Scotland, said:
“The Scottish Government is concerned by incidents of religious persecution in Pakistan, as highlighted in this report, and we continue to urge the Government of Pakistan to protect and guarantee the fundamental rights of all its citizens.
“As a Government we are committed to promoting a multi-faith, multi-cultural society and we do not tolerate any form of religious prejudice. We encourage and support the often slow, patient and unheralded work of interfaith dialogue – supported and encouraged by our many faith communities – which is crucial to building a Scotland where people from all backgrounds can follow their faith in peace.
“As a good global citizen we are committed to promoting and supporting the development of interfaith relations within and between countries.”
One such community facing persecution in Pakistan is the Ahmadiyya community. In response to the report, a spokesperson for the community in the UK said:
“Islam is clear that there should be no compulsion in religion and it is unfortunate that Pakistan, a country that claims to be an Islamic Republic, denies its citizens freedom of religion.
“We hope that the case studies noted in this report will remind Pakistan of its obligations and the return it to the vision of its founding father Mohammad Ali Jinnah, where all citizens are equal and free to practise their faith.”
Invisible Citizens of Pakistan: Minorities in Focus makes some recommendations for the Pakistan Government, which include the following:
1. Members of minority communities should be given equal, fundamental and constitutional rights as citizens of Pakistan.
2. Access to education and public life should be the right of every citizen of Pakistan.
3. The Government should encourage interfaith and inter-religious programmes across the country to promote a culture of understanding, peace and tolerance.
4. The Government should reform the discriminatory laws which are used to target minorities.
5. Policing reforms should be made to better protect minorities and minority places of worship.
6. The Government should stop the proliferation of hate speech and literature which targets any religious groups/communities, and should also make sure those who commit such crimes are penalized by law.
7. Minorities should have an increased and proportionate number of seats at provincial, national and senate level.
8. The rule of law should be maintained for every citizen.
Without these changes, minority communities in Pakistan – which was founded as a free state where everyone has equal rights – will continue to face persecution in their homeland.