US prelate urges Pakistan PM to foster religious freedom

Archbishop of Philadelphia tells Imran Khan that Christians face 'chronic hostility, harassment and persecution'
US prelate urges Pakistan PM to foster religious freedom

Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia speaks to Pope Francis at St. Charles Borromeo Seminary in Wynnewood, Pennsylvania, on Sept. 27, 2015. (Photo: Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/AFP)

An American archbishop has called on Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan to encourage a culture of religious freedom in the Muslim-majority country.

Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia wrote to Khan on Jan. 21 to urge him to secure the full rights of all Pakistani citizens of every religion.

He highlighted the abuse of Pakistan’s blasphemy laws, economic disadvantages for religious minorities and attacks on minority places of worship.

"Of particular worry — as I’m sure you’re aware — is that Pakistani Christians are vulnerable to the misuse of blasphemy laws and are at risk of false accusations and wrongful criminal prosecution,” Archbishop Chaput wrote.

“Neighbors can settle ordinary disputes by leveling a charge of blasphemy against a Christian citizen who is then arrested and jailed. Even worse, the charge of blasphemy can sometimes lead to a mob attack on the one accused, and violence against that person’s family and property.

“Those falsely accused of blasphemy have been murdered with little serious effort by the government to bring such killers to justice. A reform of Pakistan’s blasphemy laws, and its investigation and prosecution procedures, is thus urgently needed.”

Pakistan’s blasphemy laws impose strict punishment on those who desecrate the Quran or insult the Prophet Muhammad. Many Pakistanis accused of blasphemy are murdered, while those who call for reform of the laws are often victims of violence.

The letter, published in First Things, encouraged Khan to “work urgently to assure true religious liberty for all citizens of Pakistan, especially for members of minority faiths.”

Archbishop Chaput added: “I believe in the honest intentions of many in the Pakistani government to assure full religious freedom for their nation. But Pakistan still does not fully protect the religious liberty of all of its citizens.”

He cited reports that Pakistan’s religious minorities face “chronic hostility, harassment and persecution” and that the government “seems to do little to ensure their personal safety and their full participation in public life.”

This situation is both unjust and aggravates misunderstandings and resentment of Islam among American Christians, he said.

Archbishop Chaput said that the government had failed to keep promises to provide quotas for public and education sector jobs for Christians and other religious minorities.

“Christian and other non-Muslim houses of worship, as well as homes and businesses, have many times been attacked and destroyed. This is repugnant in any civilized society. But police too often fail to protect non-Muslim sacred spaces. And little effort is made to prosecute and bring to justice the perpetrators of this religious hatred,” the archbishop wrote.

“I do believe in the good will of many citizens of Pakistan and many members of your government. I also know that Pakistan faces many economic and social challenges, and you have the difficult task of managing them. I respect the demands of your office, and I gladly pray for both justice and success in your public service.”

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