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Pakistan 'still ignores minorities'

State govts have failed to provide adequate protection due to ‘lethargy,’ activists say
Pakistan 'still ignores minorities'

Pakistani Christians salvage their belongings from their damaged house in a Christian Colony on the outskirts of Peshawar on Sept. 3, a day after suicide bombers attacked a Christian colony in Pakistan. (Photo by AFP) 

Published: December 05, 2016 06:48 AM GMT
Updated: December 05, 2016 06:49 AM GMT

It has been two years since Pakistan’s Supreme Court ordered the state to protect the rights of ethnic and religious minorities but the response from the government has been lackluster and church leaders are concerned.

The court’s ruling, on June 19, 2014, ordered the federal government to create a national council for the rights of minorities and provincial governments to create task forces for religious tolerance, protect places of worship and crack down on hate speech, among other measures.  

Minority leaders and civil society praised Chief Justice Tassaduq Hussain Jillani for passing the judgment in the wake of a deadly bombing at Peshawar Church in 2013 that killed 85 Christians.

"Such rulings are not very common in our country. It was not easy to combine the philosophy of human rights, Islamic justice and minority rights. Finally, we got justice but non-compliance frustrated us. The church is affected when its people are affected," said Bishop Alexander John Malik of Lahore.

He was speaking at the Nov. 30 launch of When Compliance Fails Justice, a research study by the Centre for Social Justice (CSJ). The study assessed all 10 follow-up hearings at the Supreme Court up to September 2016. The speakers, most of them lawyers, criticized "lethargy on the part of the government" and unsatisfactory implementation.  

According to CSJ research, the federal government totally failed to report back on the court’s orders, Punjab did poorly (32 percent) while Balochistan province "made tangible strides" and crossed 50 percent compliance.  

None of the five governments set up any implementation bodies. None of the five cabinets or inter- ministry bodies carried out any reviews or deliberated how to implement the reforms.

In fact, the 2015 twin suicide attack on churches in Youhanabad, the largest Christian ghetto in Lahore, took place five days after the Punjab government submitted its security analysis.

"We desperately need a [national] council to monitor our interests. The security of churches is still a big concern; it is common to see policemen dozing on duty or playing mobile phone games during Sunday services," Bishop Malik said. 

Churches around the country now submit their service schedules to district police who then send four to five police officers to guard the congregations. If the police don’t show up, some churches are forced to let their youth groups keep guard.

"Nobody questioned the officials about the flawed security for the churches in Youhanabad. The failure of all four provincial governments to establish a task force to secure places of worship led to attacks on minority communities because of their weakness and lethargy," Peter Jacob, director of CSJ told ucanews.com.

"I hope the implementation of the 2014 ruling can strengthen the whole church which has suffered both physically and economically in recent decades. This is the only direction for a peaceful Pakistan," he added.

Religious minorities in Pakistan have long been complaining of being treated as second-class citizens, demanding equal rights and better opportunities.  Their biggest concern is the abuse of blasphemy which is seldom discussed in the courts or government.

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