From left to right, Fr Saleh Diego, Ambassador of Peace & Interfaith Harmony Allama Ahsan Siddiqui, Archbishop of Karachi Joseph Coutts, activist Ansar Burney, Hindu leader Vijay Mahraj and Interfaith Commission for Justice and Peace member Kailash Sarhadi join hands during an event organized to call for better protection of Pakistan’s minority groups (Credit: ucanews.com)
The National Commission for Justice and Peace (NCJP), the Catholic Church’s human rights body in Pakistan, has called for better protection of minority groups amid renewed threats against them by Islamist militants. The demand comes days after 45 members of the minority Shia Ismaili community were massacred in a gun attack on a bus in Karachi, claimed by several Sunni groups, including Islamic State. Ismailis are Shia Muslims who also revere Imam Ismail who died in 765 AD. They number about 15 million worldwide with about 500,000 living in Pakistan. The militants responsible for last week’s bloodshed also threatened to launch more attacks on minorities, including Christians. In a joint statement condemning the attack, Archbishop of Karachi Joseph Coutts and NCJP National Director Fr Saleh Diego said the May 13 “killing of innocent people on the basis of their faith is unacceptable”.
“We demand from both the federal government and provincial governments to take serious and effective measures to prevent such atrocities and also plead to increase security for all minority groups.” The NCJP also held a special service at Saint Patrick’s Cathedral in Karachi on Friday to express solidarity with the Ismaili community and pray for the victims. Leaders of various religious groups, politicians and human rights campaigners attended the service. Addressing the gathering, Archbishop Coutts said attempts were being made to create a rift among religious groups in Pakistan. “Our aim should be to foil such attempts and bridge the distance between religious groups,” he said. Fr Saleh Diego said murder of one human is equal to murdering the whole community. “We should demonstrate unity to raise our voice against atrocities being committed by militants in Pakistan,” he said. “We want to give a message to terrorists that we all are Pakistanis and no force, no religious leader and no government can divide us.” Mehnaz ur Rehman, a women’s rights activist and the director of the Aurat Foundation, said the attack had shocked the nation. “Irrespective to our faith and religion, we should jointly fight for a terror-free Pakistan,” she said. “How can we allow such groups to spread hatred and call other groups as apostates and infidel?” she said citing intelligence agency reports that said elements within the International Islamic University in Pakistan’s capital Islamabad were stoking extremism. A report released by the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom earlier this month listed Pakistan as one of the worst places in the world for religious freedom of countries not currently designated by the US as “countries of particular concern”. “Pakistan continued to experience chronic sectarian violence targeting Shia Muslims, Christians, Ahmadi Muslims, and Hindus,” the report said. “Despite positive rulings by the Supreme Court, the government has failed to provide adequate protection to targeted groups or to prosecute perpetrators and those calling for violence,” it said.
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