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BISHOP LEADS 10,000 IN RALLIES DEMANDING MINORITIES´ RIGHTS

Updated: August 31, 1997 05:00 PM GMT
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Bishop John Joseph of Faisalabad led some 10,000 men and women in a public rally on Aug. 11 here, demanding equal rights for all in Pakistan as envisioned by the country´s founder 50 years ago.

At the end of the demonstration, Bishop Joseph presented a rally memorandum to a government official on behalf of more than 40 organizations, including trade unions and human rights groups, comprising Christians and Muslims alike.

The memorandum stated, "We want the Pakistan which Quaid-e-Azam (great leader, Muhammad Ali Jinnah) created with equal rights for all the citizens of Pakistan without any distinctions at all."

"To achieve this we are ready to make any sacrifice that is needed, because this was the Pakistan for which the Muslims and the Christians voted and offered countless sacrifices 50 years ago," it said.

The day marked the 50th anniversary of the opening of Pakistan´s first Constituent Assembly in Karachi by Jinnah, Pakistan´s founder.

Demonstrators recalled that in his speech on the historic occasion, Jinnah had assured that people of all religions would be equal as citizens and were free to go to their temples, mosques or other places of worship.

The main demand of the rally in Faisalabad was the immediate repeal of Pakistan´s "blasphemy laws," which make defaming Prophet Mohammad punishable with death, and desecrating the Koran with life imprisonment.

Protesters also demanded the removal of all laws that discriminate against women, such as those which stipulate that the value of a woman´s testimony is only half a man´s and that there must be four eyewitnesses to prove a rape.

They further addressed issues of child labor and equal work opportunities.

The rally, which started at the bishop´s house, was attended by members of the Christian-Muslim Relations Commission, Amnesty International Pakistan, the Catholic Press Association, Khadman-e-Saleeb and the diocesan women´s group, among others.

National Assemblyman Peter John Sahotra and Punjab Provincial Assemblyman Johnson Michael, both Christians, Amnesty International Pakistan president Rana Qaiser Iqbal and Catholic Press Association president Khalid Rasheed Asi were among those present at the rally.

Addressing the participants, Bishop Joseph, who is chairman of the National Justice and Peace Commission under the Pakistan bishops´ conference, said that Jinnah´s address to the first constituent assembly "is reflective of the fact that he ever thought of making Pakistan a liberal democratic state."

He also said that despite a promise by Pakistan President Farooq Ahmad Leghari Khan in May 1994 to a deputation of bishops that no blasphemy cases would be registered without a magistrate conducting an initial enquiry, police are still registering cases on their own.

Iqbal said that the chief justice of the Supreme Court should take note of the problems caused by discriminatory laws, especially for the minorities, adding that Amnesty International was struggling for an end to all forms of capital punishment everywhere in the world.

Parliamentarian Sahotra urged Christians members of the National Assembly to advocate for their community´s stand on the issue of representation in the parliament, saying, "Instead of demanding some separate seat in the Senate, they should focus on the abolition of the separate electorate system."

After staging the rally through the main streets of this industrial northeastern city, waving some 800 banners, the protesters brought their memorandum to the additional deputy commissioner of Faisalabad.

END

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