Wednesday, 22 June 2011

We must speak out for peace and justice in Pakistan

Shahbaz Bhatti, Pakistan's late Federal Minister for Minorities, who was assassinated in March
When militant Islamists in Pakistan assassinated Shahbaz Bhatti in March, they silenced the sole Christian voice in the country’s Cabinet.

As the Federal Minister for Minorities, Mr Bhatti had frequently spoken out about the persecution of Christians in Pakistan, especially as a consequence of the notorious Blasphemy Laws. When eight people died during anti-Christian riots sparked by reports of the Qu’ran being desecrated in Gojra, Punjab province, in August 2009, it was Shahbaz Bhatti who demanded better protection for Christian communities.

And his voice – along with that of another assassinated politician, Salman Taseer, the Governor of Punjab Province – was the loudest to speak in defence of Asia Bibi, a Christian woman on death row for alleged blasphemy offences.

Both men had called for changes to Pakistan’s Blasphemy Laws, which, in enshrining the sanctity of Islam and the Prophet Mohammed, provide an often-abused tool for vengeance and vindictiveness against minority groups and personal enemies. The laws have been cited as the cause of 14 separate attacks on Christians over the last two months. A recent call by an Islamist political group to ban the Bible for being “blasphemous” and “pornographic” shows tolerance to be at a low ebb.

In a video prepared in the event of his death, Shahbaz Bhatti declared: “I believe in Jesus Christ who has given his own life for us, and I am ready to die for a cause. I'm living for my community... and I will die to defend their rights.”

In association with the
British Pakistani Christian Association, Aid to the Church in Need is asking supporters to make their voice heard in defence of Pakistan’s Christians and other minorities.

sign our petition calling for peace, justice and human rights for all people of Pakistan. Almost 700 people have already signed up, and the more names we can gather, the louder our voices wil speak out.

Christians protest in Pakistan after extremist attacks left eight dead and many injured
We will also be taking part in a protest march on Saturday 2nd July in London. The march is being organised by Wilson Chowdhry, the chairman of the British Pakistani Christian Association who said: "We are grateful for the partnership with Aid to the Church in Need, who have responded so warmly to our request for support.

“Pakistani Christians in their homeland are persecuted daily. The increasing conservative and extremist form of Islam in Pakistan has meant that those who speak out against oppression are silenced through either threat or assassination, such as Shahbaz Bhatti (RIP).”

During the march, I will be among a delegation submitting the petition to 10 Downing Street. John Pontifex, Aid to the Church in Need’s head of press and information, will be giving a short talk to the crowd, too.

Other guests expected at the rally include Bishop Dr Michael Nazir Ali, the former Anglican Bishop of Rochester, Stuart Windsor of Christian Solidarity Worldwide, Lee Scott MP and representatives from Christian, Sikh, Hindu and Muslim organisations

You can
find out more about the protest here

Please do add your voice to our campaign, and ask friends and family to do the same – Pakistan’s Christians have no voice of their own.

Neville Kyrke-Smith
UK Director, Aid to the Church in Need

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