Irfan Mufti (center) the convener of the Joint Action Committee for People's Rights at an Aug. 13 Minorities Day event in Lahore. (Photo: supplied)
Right groups in Pakistan have defended a Christian-run organization after it was accused of anti-state activities after it sent a report to a UN agency about rights violations in the country.
The Muslim-majority nation’s interior ministry has ordered Punjab provincial government to take action against the rights organization, the Center for Social Justice (CSJ), for its alleged anti-state propaganda sent to the UN, the widely circulated Urdu newspaper, Jang, reported on Aug. 21.
The CSJ, a minority rights organization based in Lahore, submitted the report to the United Nations Human Rights Council in July. The report, a joint effort of several groups, was endorsed by more than 30 rights organizations including the Justice and Peace Commission of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Pakistan.
“The content of the mentioned report reflects the verifiable ground situation vis-à-vis freedom of religion or belief. The CSJ report is based on facts. Besides, the issues covered in the report have been widely discussed, in the courts, parliamentary bodies, and media in the country,” said Irfan Mufti, the Muslim convener of the Joint Action Committee for People's Rights (JAC), a collection of 37 human rights groups.
The report, which is now publicly available, speaks of incidents of forced conversions of Christians, misuse of the law on blasphemy and alleges that the government of Pakistan failed in following UN and international norms regarding religion and belief and also failed to implement its own laws.
“The joint civil society report also makes concrete and workable recommendations for the government with each issue explained. The government should constructively consider these recommendations to help resolve the longstanding issues which are an actual source of embarrassment for the country,” Mufti said in an Aug. 22 statement.
"The government will be held answerable at all competent forums"
He said the participation of civil society organizations helps improve Pakistan’s international image and their engagement helps improve the people. However, “living in a state of denial will impede the resolution of these long-standing issues,” he said.
The report, to be presented at the 51st session of the Human Rights Council (Sept. 12 to Oct 07), is also expected to be taken up during the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of Pakistan focusing on the blasphemy law, forced conversion, forced teaching of Islam and not establishing a national commission for minorities.
Civil society organizations, including the CSJ, have already taken part in mandatory Universal Periodic Reviews in 2008, 2012, and 2017. The government had pledged to be part of the review process in 2006 after the induction of the UN Human Rights Council. The fourth review of Pakistan is due in January 2023.
“The government is supposed to submit its report in October, Mufti said. In that report, the government can respond to the issues raised or act to resolve them and seek credit during the January session.
“However, if the incidence of violence in the name of religion continues, the government will be held answerable at all competent forums,” Mufti said in his statement.
Mufti, is also the deputy executive director of South Asia Partnership-Pakistan which was among a dozen NGOs ordered to shut down some of their operations in 2017 for their alleged involvement “in objectionable and anti-state activities.”
In 2019, the government again revoked the licenses of thousands of non-governmental agencies, preventing them from receiving foreign funding, including from Christian agencies.
According to the CSJ, at least 78 cases of forced or involuntary conversions of 39 Hindu and 38 Christian minor girls, and a Sikh girl, were reported in 2021.
The Catholic Bishop’s Commission for Justice and Peace, a JAC member organization, says 54 people were charged under the blasphemy law — 23 Muslims, 11 Christians, 14 Ahmadis, and six Hindus last year.
Naeem Yousaf Gill, who heads the bishop’s commission for Justice and Peace, questioned the interior ministry’s move.
A number of organizations and networks are working on the issues of rights violations in the country. “How can such groups, especially minorities, be accused of negative propaganda?” he asked.