Report shows increase in attacks on minorities
LAHORE: The recently published annual report of Centre for Legal Aid Assistance and Settlement (CLAAS) Pakistan for the year 2013 has revealed that 1,000 females (700 Christian and 300 Hindu girls) from minorities are forced into marriage every year in the country.
Additionally, the report states that till date 70 churches have been attacked in Pakistan, whereas 158 people were, 275 injured, and 70 cases of minority discrimination currently registered with CLAAS. The number of visitors with complaints in CLAAS office alone in Lahore stands at 4,029 visitors.
The report, titled ‘Minorities have a Right to Appeal the Constitution as Shield against Oppression’, makes a list of recommendations for both the federal and provincial governments in order to stem the tide of faith-based killings and violence in the country.
It is pertinent to note that the Supreme Court of Pakistan has also ordered the government to undertake special measures to protect minorities, in light of the September 2013 Peshawar Church Blast that left 127 persons dead.
The recommendations include a repeal of all discriminatory laws in the country that separate and divide the nation on the basis of religion and belief, transparent and fair investigations to be carried out after attacks on minorities, laws that prohibit forced abductions, conversions and marriages of minority persons, inclusion of principles of tolerance in Pakistan’s educational curriculums, equal employment opportunities for peoples belonging to non-Muslim faiths, special attention for Christians working in brick kilns, protection of worship places, and setting up of new mechanisms to ensure victims of violence receive justice from courts. Talking to The News, National Director of Centre for Legal Aid Assistance and Settlement (CLAAS) Pakistan Joseph Francis said society in Pakistan today is not able to deal with religious differences and these differences are popularly perceived as grounds for violent adversity. Francis pointed out that a young Christian boy Adnan Masih was brutally murdered by the police in Sharaqpur police station this year after being mentally and physically tortured.
The CLAAS National Director said convictions in cases where the victim is from a non-Muslim faith are embarrassingly low and perpetrators are usually released on bail after compromised court proceedings. Impunity for faith-based killings must come to an end, said Francis.
The human rights activist highlighted the case of George Naz, a Christian leader who faced threats to his life from militant groups after holding a protest demonstration in Jhelum in reaction to the attack on 147 Christian houses in Joseph Colony, Badami Bagh.
He cited other case of faith-based violence as well. Younis Masih was murdered in Quetta for refusing to convert on gunpoint. Humera, a young Christian girl, was gang raped by three men in Sahiwal this year.
Francis said the government in Pakistan is prejudiced towards minorities and is yet to pass a law banning and prescribing tough punishments for hate speech targeting non-Muslims in the country.
Speaking on forced abductions of Christian and Hindu girls, Francis said girls abducted may be sold out to others, kept for purposes of sexual abuse, given in prostitution, converted for giving in marriage to elderly men and for a period of captivity for as long as their captors desire.
He said the Supreme Court of Pakistan in its recent judgment on the status of religious minorities acknowledged the pandemic of forced marriages, underlining the need for the need of laws registering Hindu couples for marriage, to stop forced marriage of Hindu girls through abduction.
To curb the repercussions of religious discrimination in society in Pakistan, Joseph Francis said CLAAS is involved in providing legal aid assistance to victims of faith, rehabilitation at APNA GHAR for survivors, safe houses for those facing threats to their lives, a mobile medical healthcare unit in Pakistan’s villages and brick kilns, educational scholarships for underprivileged minorities, jail visits for minority prisoners, and arrangements for food for victims of faith unable to fulfill the needs of their families due to threats.
Given that civil society’s reach is limited, Francis said it is important for lawmakers in the legislative assemblies to amend discriminatory laws and draft new legislation aimed at the social and economic advancement of Pakistan’s minority groups. Previously, former president General Pervaiz Musharraf had called for changes in the laws to give a good impression to the international community, which has repeatedly criticized Pakistan for lack of religious freedom, but so far nothing has surfaced, Francis told The News. He added that the government refrains from taking action against extremists for reasons of political expediency.
Francis said CLAAS fact-finding reports on 2013 Peshawar Church Blast contain ample evidence that injured children taken to the local hospital were put into the dead boxes in the morgue despite being alive, in light of shortage of beds. Even in this critical stage, the response from service providers showed religious discrimination, said Francis.