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Pakistani prelate rejects cleric's statement on religious freedom

Archbishop Sebastian Shaw distances himself from criticism of the US State Department's rights list

Pakistani prelate rejects cleric's statement on religious freedom

Archbishop Sebastian Shaw says this controversial photo was taken at a press conference held five months ago. (Photo supplied)

Archbishop Sebastian Shaw of Lahore has distanced himself from government criticism of the US State Department for designating Pakistan a country of particular concern.

In a press statement issued last week, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken designated Pakistan and several other countries on the list for allegedly "having engaged in or tolerated systematic, ongoing and egregious violations of religious freedom.

Tahir Mehmood Ashrafi, a cleric appointed special representative on religious harmony by Prime Minister Imran Khan, rejected the report in a statement issued along with a group photo of church leaders in Lahore.  

“The attitude of the American foreign ministry regarding Islamic countries is condemnable and lamentable. The situation of minorities is the worst in India but it wasn’t included on this list,” he said.

According to Archbishop Shaw, the photo was taken at a press conference held five months ago.

“I didn’t comment on behalf of the interfaith harmony council of Pakistan. Our partners condemned this statement and asked Ashrafi to remove the Facebook post. I have no link with it,” he told UCA News.

Religious minorities are persecuted at their workplaces. Our youths are the soft target. The state is promoting interfaith harmony under compulsion

Last week the National Commission for Minorities accepted the resignation of Archbishop Shaw amid allegations about the commission’s inability to address the concerns of religious minorities such as Christians and Hindus.

Speakers at the Asma Jahangir Conference 2021, Pakistan's biggest human rights conference, also claimed that religious and sectarian minorities suffer systematic discrimination and violence in Pakistan.

Last year the US Commission on International Religious Freedom also placed Pakistan on the same list detailing blasphemy and anti-Ahmadiyya laws and forced conversions to Islam.

Catholic professor Anjum James Paul, chairman of the Pakistan Minorities Teachers' Association, termed the cleric’s statement illegal.

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“It is also immoral to associate our bishop with something without his consent,” he said.

“Students are being forced to study Islamic content even in subjects including social sciences and languages of the newly introduced single national curriculum. Religious minorities are persecuted at their workplaces. Our youths are the soft target. The state is promoting interfaith harmony under compulsion. Our issues are not addressed.”

Educationists in Pakistan are unanimous that “inclusion of content that is overtly Islamic comes at the expense of learning and is equally harmful for both majority and minority faiths” since the government introduced the revamped curriculum this August for the 2021-22 academic year.

Catholic educationists have been holding consultations and demanding curriculum reforms, promotion of religiously inclusive education and human rights. Pakistan’s constitution prohibits the teaching of religion to students other than their own faith.

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