By Kashif Nawab
Authorities must take measures to protect minorities from intimidation, violence, arbitrary arrests and detentions, and fabricated blasphemy accusations in Pakistan. This was emphasized by the participants of the meeting under the platform of the Pakistani Christian diaspora, which discussed the situation of religious minorities in the wake of blasphemy accusations in Punjab province. The meeting was joined by victims, lawyers, religious leaders, and human rights experts, including Joseph Jansen, Aqil Sheraz, Asif Mall, Akmal Bhatti Advocate, Pastor Justin Bhatti, Ch. Khalid Sadiq, Arif Sardar, Bishop Johnson Robert Nawab, Ilyas Samuel, Waseem Ghouri, Hubert George, Pastor Ajmal, Prof. Shahid Mobeen, and numerous other human rights activists.
The Chairman of Voice for Justice, Joseph Jansen, said that human rights groups are concerned about the police investigation, which seems to promote a certain state narrative that emboldens extremist outfits politicizing blasphemy accusations and victimizing members of religious minorities. It is saddening that the police have been illegally detaining Christians under the pressure of a religio-political party that is implicating minorities in blasphemy charges and using them for their political motives. Unfortunately, the police are reluctant to apprehend the actual perpetrators of incitement and violence.
Akmal Bhatti Advocate said that law-enforcement agencies should stop harassing individuals from minorities who raise their voices against injustice. He demanded that the authorities must strictly adhere to standards of justice and ensure a fair and transparent investigation and trial to prosecute and punish the people responsible for planting blasphemy charges against Christians in Sargodha, mob violence in Jaranwala, and attacking a pastor in Faisalabad.
Pastor Ghazala Shafique said that it is a matter of grave concern that Pastor Alizer (Vicky) was shot for getting the graffiti removed from the wall of the Church with the help of the police and refusing to convert to Islam. However, he was accused of shooting himself in an attempt to settle abroad and was kept in the custody of the police for several days in the name of physical and judicial remand, which impacted his health. Fortunately, he has been granted post-arrest bail; however, his right to a fair trial and religious freedom must not be violated by any state or non-state actors.
Luke Victor Advocate said that the abuse of blasphemy laws and extremist groups involved in the instigation and violence against minorities has caused an emergency situation posing a threat of further religion-based violence in Pakistan, which calls for authorities to take steps to prevent further violence from happening.
Pastor Imran Javed said that the Christians in Jaranwala have faced mob violence in the name of religion that resulted in the torching of 26 churches and over eighty homes. The social and religious apartheid has caused a sense of fear and insecurity among them, impacting their livelihood, education, and health. This situation calls for affirmative measures by the government, dispensation of justice by the courts, and peacebuilding efforts by stakeholders to rectify the situation.
Pastor Shahid Kaleem said that the Christians took refuge in fields to secure their lives from mob violence in Jaranwala. Christian factory workers were dismissed from their jobs, and Christian students are facing harassment and discrimination in schools. He added that the Muslims involved in mob violence were arrested by police, after which they have been facing threats of dire consequences.
Pastor Alam Amjad said that he lost his fast-food restaurant in the mob violence in Jaranwala, which affected its capacity to make both ends meet. Later, he was illegally detained and kept in police custody for 10 days. He appealed to the authorities to make sincere efforts to guarantee religious freedom and justice for the Christians.
A male victim said that his house was attacked after provocation through loudspeakers; however, the government has not provided any compensation for our loss in the attack, despite we have moved applications before several bureaucrats.
A female victim said that the government has provided us with financial support to build our houses as compensation for mob violence in Jaranwala; however, we do not feel secure anymore. A female victim appealed to the stakeholders to support them in their time of need as they are worried about the future of their children, whose lives, belongings, and Churches are at stake.