A file photo of Pakistani Christians praying in Karachi. Christians have joined Sikh, Hindu and Muslim communities to form the Peoples' Commission for Minorities' Rights. (Photo by Asif Hassan/AFP)
Human rights and religious organizations from across Pakistan gathered in Lahore to launch a commission to press for the protection of religious minorities in the country.
Among the Catholic Church groups who have joined the Peoples' Commission for Minorities' Rights (PCMR) are the Pakistan Catholic bishops' National Commission for Justice and Peace and the Cecil and Iris Chaudhry Foundation.
"The new commission will strive to persuade and facilitate the federal and provincial governments to make progress on the constitutional guarantees of religious freedom, rights and interests of minorities and international obligations regarding protection of minorities," said Peter Jacob the Catholic director of the Centre for Social Justice at a press conference on Nov. 29.
"We urge the federal government to remove existing barriers to enjoyment of rights; in equality and totality," he said.
The country's Supreme Court — in a suo motu case regarding a deadly Peshawar church blast in 2013 — asked the federal government to constitute a national council for minorities' rights. However only one province (Sindh) has formed such a commission.
Commission member Father Bonnie Mendes said that religious minorities in Pakistan are facing legislative, administrative as well as social hurdles.
"The discrimination is widespread. Blasphemy victims like Asia Bibi are forced to live in hiding despite being declared innocent by the top court," said Father Bonnie referring to Bibi who had her blasphemy conviction overturned on Oct. 30.
Early last week, Pakistan began cracking down on hard-line Islamists who were holding mass — and sometimes violent — protests over her release.
Bibi, a mother of five, had been held in solitary confinement on death row for blasphemy since 2010.
PCMR was launched two days after the papal charity Aid to the Church in Need released their "Religious Freedom in the World 2018" report which said that Pakistan is among the countries with significant violations of religious freedom.
The situation in Pakistan has "worsened," according to the report which expressed concern over blasphemy complaints. The report said that more than 1,000 people on death row are blasphemy cases.