Pakistani Christians demand end to persecution

Protest outside UN offices highlights use of draconian blasphemy laws to target religious minorities
Pakistani Christians demand end to persecution

Pakistani Christians protest outside the United Nations offices in Geneva, Switzerland, on Sept. 27 to call for the abolition of blasphemy laws in their homeland. (Photo courtesy of Asher Sarfraz)

Dozens of Pakistani Christians gathered outside the United Nations offices in Geneva, Switzerland, to protest the persecution of their coreligionists in their homeland. 

They gathered for the Sept. 27 rally from several Western European countries where they have received asylum, including Germany, France, Switzerland and the United Kingdom.

The protesters wielded signs and placards that read "Save Pakistani Christians" and "Stop targeting Christians in Pakistan."

Speaking through bullhorns, their representatives called on the U.N. to apply pressure on Pakistan to repeal its dreaded blasphemy laws, which are often used by the dominant Muslim majority against religious minorities.

Four members of the European Union's parliament also participated in the rally in support of Pakistan's Christians. They urged their parliament's human rights committee to devote more attention to the situation of religious minorities in Pakistan.

"The protest was organized by different human rights NGOs to draw the attention of the United Nations to the suffering of Christians in Pakistan due to blasphemy and other discriminatory laws," Asher Sarfraz, a Pakistani Christian rights advocate who lives in Germany and participated in the event, told ucanews.com.

Hundreds of Christians have fallen foul of Pakistan's draconian blasphemy laws on what rights advocates have called trumped-up charges. People convicted of blasphemy are sentenced to long prison terms and sometimes death. Many of the accused have been lynched by irate mobs. 

"[Many Christians] have been falsely accused of blasphemy and other crimes," said Sarfraz, who is CEO of Christians' True Spirit, which advocates on behalf of persecuted Christians in the South Asian nation. "They are easy targets under false pretenses."

Pakistan's government claims that the rights of religious minorities are fully upheld in the conservative Muslim nation. Christians, however, insist that they have long faced both deep-seated prejudice and institutionalized discrimination because of their faith.

"For decades religious minorities in Pakistan, especially Christians, have been victims of discrimination and all sorts of oppression," Sarfraz said.

Most of the country's four million Christians languish in grinding poverty, reduced to lowly menial jobs such as garbage collecting and street sweeping. Many better-paying jobs and government positions remain inaccessible to them.

There have also been numerous reported cases of Christians being targeted by vigilante Muslim mobs and unscrupulous individuals. Arson attacks on Christian homes and other crimes are common. Local Christian say that officials are often reluctant to act against the perpetrators in such cases.

"Christian women and young girls are kidnapped, raped, forced to convert to Islam and forced to marry Muslim men," Sarfraz said. "The situation for Christians in Pakistan is getting worse and worse. We want the U.N. and the world to take notice."

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