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Pakistan (Morning Star News) – Police in Lahore, Pakistan have charged two Christians with blasphemy after Muslims objected to their Bible study in a park last weekend, the attorney for one of the accused said.
Haroon Ayub Masih, 26, and friend Salamat Mansha Masih, about the same age, were studying the Bible in Lahore’s Model Town Park on Saturday (Feb. 13) when a group of Muslims approached and told them they should not read the Bible in public, attorney Aneeqa Maria of The Voice Society said.
When Haroon Masih told them that reading the Bible in public was not a crime in Pakistan and that they had no right to stop them, the Muslims began questioning them about their Christian faith and asked if they had any reading material to help them understand the Bible, Maria said.
“On their insistence, Haroon gave them a Christian book entitled, ‘Zindagi Ka Paani’’ or ‘Water of Life,’” said Maria, who represents Haroon Masih. “The youths took the book and left Haroon and Mansha for the time being.”
Haroon Masih returned home a few minutes later, while Mansha Masih remained in the park, she said.
“A few minutes later, the Muslim youths returned to the spot where Mansha was present and attacked him, claiming that he and Haroon had blasphemed against their prophet,” Maria told Morning Star News. “They also summoned the park’s security and lied to them that the two Christians were evangelizing to Muslims in the park and had used derogatory words for the Koran and the prophet [Muhammad].”
Maria said someone from the group of Muslim friends, which was led by Haroon Ahmed, then called the Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP), a far-right Islamist political party reportedly behind most blasphemy cases against Christians and the Ahmadiyya, a sect originating in Islam that Muslims repudiate. A TLP co-founder, Muhammad Afzal Qadri, called for the death of three Supreme Court justices involved in the 2018 acquittal of Christian Aasiya Noreen (Asia Bibi), who had been wrongly convicted of blasphemy and condemned to death.
TLP leaders arrived, and under their pressure police registered a case against the two Christians for derogatory remarks against Muhammad (Section 295-C of the Pakistan Penal Code), punishable by death; defiling the Koran (Section 295-B), punishable by imprisonment for life and fine; and deliberate and malicious acts intended to outrage religious feelings (Section 295-A), punishable by up to 10 years in prison and a fine, Maria said. The complainant is listed as Haroon Ahmed.
“Mansha was taken into custody from the spot, while we have managed to obtain pre-arrest bail for Haroon Masih till Feb. 24,” she said. “Haroon and Mansha were not preaching to the Muslims as alleged in First Information Report [FIR] No. 61/21. In fact, they were reading the Bible and discussing it amongst themselves when a group of Muslim boys, including Ahmed, overheard them and objected to their Bible study.”
She said both Christians come from poor families, and Haroon Masih’s family has had to go into hiding out fear for their safety.
“Haroon will now join the investigation and record his statement with the police,” she said.
The case comes after a Christian nurse was charged with blasphemy in Karachi on Jan. 29 under pressure of an Islamist mob hours after police had dismissed the accusation against her. Staff members of the Sobhraj Maternity Hospital in Karachi on Jan. 28 slapped, beat and locked nurse Tabeeta Nazir Gill, 42, in a room after baselessly accusing her of blaspheming Islam, sources said.
Police had questioned and released Nazir Gill after concluding that the accusations against her were false and based on a co-worker’s personal vendetta, but a Muslim mob later besieged the police station when the complainant called on Muslim leaders to mobilize them. Nazir Gill and her family have gone into hiding since the registration of the FIR.
In a video circulating on social media that a hospital staff member recorded of the attack, Nazir Gill, said to be a Catholic who is also a locally popular gospel singer, is seen crying for help as Muslim hospital personnel slap and punch her, and in one clip they thrust a notebook and pen into her hands to try to force her to sign a confession.
They call for her to “confess your crime in writing” amid a din of accusations and curses, and a staff member strikes her with a broom.
“I swear to God I haven’t said anything against the prophet [Muhammad],” Nazir says in the video clip. “They are trying to trap me in a fake charge.”
Staff members at the Sobhraj Maternity Hospital where Nazir Gill has worked for nine years locked her in a room after trying to force her to sign the confession
False accusations of blasphemy in Pakistan are common and often motivated by personal vendettas or religious hatred. The highly inflammatory accusations have the potential to spark mob lynchings, vigilante murders and mass protests.
Many of those accused of blasphemy never reach the courtroom; violence has killed 62 accused people since 1990, with few prosecutions. Lawyers defending those charged with blasphemy, presiding judges, and individuals speaking against the law are also targeted.
In Pakistan 24 Christians are in prison due to blasphemy charges. They are defendants in 21 blasphemy cases at various levels of the judicial process.
With no presumption of innocence in Pakistan, anyone accused of blasphemy can be jailed, often for years, while those who make false allegations go unpunished. In 2018, a Senate Special Committee on Human Rights and the Islamabad High Court had recommended that those making false blasphemy accusations be given the same punishments as those for blasphemy convictions, but the government dismissed the recommendation. The recommendation also stated that anyone registering a blasphemy case at a police station must bring two witnesses.
While punishment for blasphemy ranges from several years in prison to death in Pakistan, a person making a false accusation faces potential punishment of only six months in prison or a fine of 1,000 rupees (US$6). Successive governments have acknowledged that the blasphemy laws are blatantly misused, but little effort has been made to stop the abuses.
Rights activists say it’s unlikely that any government will move to repeal or amend the blasphemy laws due to fierce Islamic religious sentiments in the Muslim-majority country. They say Pakistani authorities must be urged to immediately implement effective procedural and institutional safeguards at the investigative, prosecutorial and judicial levels to prevent abuse of these laws.
The U.S. State Department on Dec. 7 re-designated Pakistan among nine other “Countries of Particular Concern” for severe violations of religious freedom. Previously Pakistan had been added to the list on Nov. 28, 2018. The other countries on the list are Burma, China, North Korea, Eritrea, Iran, Nigeria, Saudi Arabia, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan. Sudan and Uzbekistan were removed from the department’s Special Watch List due to improvements in their religious rights records.
Pakistan ranked fifth on Open Doors 2021 World Watch list of the 50 countries where it is most difficult to be a Christian.
India (Morning Star News) – Harassment of Christians by hard-line Hindus in northern India ended in police coercing a pastor to agree to stop holding worship in his home after an officer threatened to make false charges against his son, he said.
The pastor said the coercion by police in Uttar Pradesh state came after his son, 19-year-old Pawan Kumar, on Aug. 25 asked intoxicated Hindus to stop yelling disparaging remarks about Christianity outside their home in Tarkulwa village, Maharajganj District.
“The officers at Shyam Deurwa police station joined hands with the assailants and forced us to sign a document vowing that we would never conduct prayers in our home, and that we would not share gospel with anyone,” the house-church leader, identified only as Pastor Sugriv, told Morning Star News. “I was forced to sign it. What kind of justice is this?”
On the night of the triggering incident, the group of Hindus were on the verge of attacking but in their drunken state ended up fighting among themselves, he said. He took his son back inside and locked the door to the Hindus’ taunts of, “Hallelujah, Hallelujah,” which continued into the night, Pastor Sugriv said.
The next morning he informed the Tarkulwa village president about the harassment, and the official summoned the Hindus to his office and warned them to make no further disturbances, he said. The Hindus returned that night (Aug. 26), however, again using obscenities as they disparaged Christianity, the pastor said.
“We had no other option but to inform the police,” Pastor Sugriv said. “It is not safe for us to have these drunkards come by whenever they want and start picking fights with us, shouting at the top of their lungs. We have women in our house, and it was beyond what we could tolerate.”
Two police officers came to their home on Aug. 29 and asked Pastor Sugriv’s son to show them where the accused lived, he said.
“We thought they came to take action against them for our safety and allowed our son to go with them to show their homes,” he said. “We had waited very long for our child to return, and someone passing by informed us that police had taken him into custody.”
Arriving at the Shyam Deurwa police station, he found his son and one of the Hindus, who had falsely accused Kumar of sexually harassing young women in the village. Police were planning to charge him with sexual harassment, the pastor said.
At length Pastor Sugriv pleaded for them to release him, reminded them of the complaint he had already filed and called the Uttar Pradesh team of legal advocacy group Alliance Defending Freedom India. ADF personnel brought the matter to higher police officials.
The station house officer was away on duty at a religious procession but assured Pastor Sugrive that he would release his son after returning, the pastor said. When the station house officer returned to the Shyam Deurwa police station at about 11 p.m., however, Pastor Sugriv said the chief spoke harshly to him.
“You can get lawyers and higher police officials to call me from Delhi, Bombay and from across the country – I’m not afraid of anyone,” he shouted, according to the pastor. “I will frame your son in such a case that he will be behind the bars for many, many years. Go do whatever you want. I will not let him go.”
Pastor Sugriv said he had never left Kumar alone even at his grandparents’ home, much less in a jail cell.
“It was not easy for me,” he said. “He speaks very softly and never speaks ill of anyone. When he saw the drunkards mocking and laughing, he could not take it. He went up and asked them what was wrong. That was the only offense committed by him.”
The station house officer was adamant that he would not be released, he said.
“I entrusted my son to my Lord’s hands and left the police station that midnight after the officer retired from his duties,” Pastor Sugriv said. “God gave me the strength at that moment to be prepared for the worst.”
That night after midnight, a spokesperson at the Maharajganj District Police told Morning Star News that the in-charge inspector of Shyam Deurwa police station had been directed to take necessary action, but Kumar was not released.
“It affected him psychologically, he is of tender age,” Pastor Sugriv told Morning Star News. “Even the next day [Aug. 30], the officer refused to release him, but the brothers in ADF’s Uttar Pradesh team did not give up. Finally, in the evening, he was released without any charges.”
As a condition for his son’s release, the officers forced Pastor Sugriv to sign a document vowing that they would never practice their faith in their home or talk about Christ with anyone, he said.
The pastor told Morning Star News he was shocked at the demand, saying, “Don’t we have the freedom to pray even within the four walls of our home?”
Shyam Deurwa Police Inspector Vijay Singh denied that the document Pastor Sugriv signed violated India’s religious freedoms, saying it prohibited only fraudulent conversion.
“Villagers have been opposing them since they have been propagating Christianity in the area, so I had only taken their signatures on a document vowing that they will not forcefully convert or allure anyone to convert,” Singh told Morning Star News.
Singh also denied that police took Kumar into custody that night or the next day or threatened to file false charges against him.
The spread of the novel coronavirus among inmates makes incarceration especially dangerous. ADF India’s representative in Uttar Pradesh told Morning Star News that in this case and another in Azamgarh District, “we had to ensure that the victims do not get framed in false allegations, since arrest or detention during this time can be risky for their health as well.”
“But often the officers are adamant and refuse to take action against the assailants,” he said. “There have also been cases where the victims had to pay penalties of 1,000 rupees [US$13.50], as there is a threat that the police could falsely book them for violating the lockdown instead of taking action against the assailants.”
Beatings amid COVID-19
In the case in Azamgarh District, Hindu extremist beatings in Dasmada village in early July that sent a Christian for hospital treatment have caused a house church to stop meeting for worship.
“We are all scattered now and only praying that Lord will allow us to resume the services in Dasmada,” 20-year-old pastor Vikas Gupta told Morning Star News.
He was leading a small group of Christians in worship in compliance with measures to control the spread of the coronavirus on July 1 when a mob of around 15 upper-caste Hindu villagers surrounded the place chanting slogans and threatening to kill the Christians, he said.
“They warned that if I am seen again in the village, they would hack me to death,” Pastor Gupta told Morning Star News. “We had tried to speak peacefully with them, but they were on fire.”
As they had issued threats since the founding of a house church there three years before, the pastor was used to such opposition, he said.
“But to our shock, they returned at around 5 p.m., around 30 this time, and started beating me and three other brothers present in the premises of the home church,” he said. “One of us was severely injured and had to be immediately rushed to the hospital.”
The mob also damaged parked vehicles, the church roof and other property, he said.
On July 6 they returned, saying their relatives had become Christians and were refusing to eat food offered to Hindu gods and goddesses, Pastor Gupta said.
“They accused us, saying we had been training the people who come to church to go against their Hindu relatives, and that because we had been propagating a foreign faith in the village we don’t deserve to live,” he told Morning Star News. “They kept punching us on the back and striking our heads as they took us to a local Hindu temple and forced us to vow that we will not preach about a foreign God.”
The Christians told them repeatedly that they had not trained anyone to oppose them but only gathered at the home to worship and pray, but they ignored them, he said.
With the help of ADF India, on July 7 they filed a police report about the attacks, he said.
Pastor Gupta took refuge at a Christian’s home in a nearby village, and the rest of the members and pastors of the church fled to another community – only to be attacked there at 10 p.m. by about 100 radical Hindus, he said.
“They fled from there to save themselves,” Pastor Gupta said, adding that for the past two months, house-church leaders have sought refuge in neighboring towns.
ADF India’s representative in Uttar Pradesh stated that they have guided persecuted Christians on how to file complaints online amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The harassment of Christians continues even through the lockdown,” he said.
India is ranked 10th on the Open Doors’ 2020 World Watch List of the countries where it is most difficult to be a Christian. The country was 31st in 2013, but its position has been worse each year since Narendra Modi of the Bharatiya Janata Party came to power in 2014.
Even in countries where there is not obvious persecution, Christians face increasing discrimination.
Moreover, offending, insulting or attacking Christians because of their beliefs and their values, including in the media and in public debate, based on a distorted and misinterpreted concept of freedom of expression, often goes uncontested.
(Vatican Radio) Monsignor Janusz Urbańczyk, the Holy See’s Permanent Respresentative to the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) participated in Wednesday’s Conference on Combating Intolerance and Discriminations of Christians taking place in Vienna.
In his remarks, the Vatican diplomat called upon State authorities to “take into consideration the contributions of religious organizations and of their leaders concerning matters of common good and the development of society, including in the decision-making processes.”
The full text of Msgr. Urbańczyk’s three interventions are below
BY MONSIGNOR JANUSZ URBAŃCZYK
PERMANENT REPRESENTATIVE OF THE HOLY SEE,
AT THE CONFERENCE ON COMBATING INTOLERANCE AND DISCRIMINATION AGAINST CHRISTIANS
14 December 2016
SESSION I: SECURITY OF CHRISTIAN COMMUNITIES ACROSS THE OSCE REGION
As this is the first time my Delegation takes the floor, I would like to echo the gratitude voiced during the Opening Session by Monsignor Antoine Camilleri, Undersecretary for Relations with States of the Holy See, and thank the German Chairmanship and the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODHIR) for organizing this Conference on combating intolerance and discrimination against Christians. I thank the introducers for their valuable contributions to our discussion, noting especially their presentation of the extensive commitments that all participating States have agreed to in this field.
It should come as no surprise that the issue at hand is important to the Holy See and central to the work of its OSCE Delegation, just as it was when the Holy See dispatched its Delegation to the Helsinki negotiations more than 40 years ago.
The OSCE clearly provides added-value when considering and addressing security in a comprehensive and holistic manner, ranging from military to human security. Therefore, this forum is particularly apt to address the security challenges that Christian communities face today. Thankfully, the OSCE area does not witness blatant and violent persecutions of Christians, as sadly other parts of the world currently do. However, our region is still not free from cases of discrimination against Christians, and ultimately even their security can be at risk. As a matter of fact, manifestations of intolerance, hate crimes and episodes of violence or vandalism against religious places or objects continue to increase, and we certainly thank the ODIHR for its work in this field. Moreover, offending, insulting or attacking Christians because of their beliefs and their values, including in the media and in
public debate, based on a distorted and misinterpreted concept of freedom of expression, often goes uncontested.
Madam Moderator, starting from the Helsinki Final Act of 1975, participating States have agreed through the last 40 years upon a consistent set of commitments aimed at promoting freedom of religion or belief, and at fighting intolerance and discrimination. In this regard, let me recall the most recent 2013 OSCE Kyiv Ministerial Council Decision No. 3 on Freedom of Thought, Conscience, Religion or Belief, which emphasizes the link between security and the full respect for the freedom of thought, conscience, religion or belief. With this decision, participating States have inter alia committed to ensure the right of all individuals to profess and practise religion or belief, either alone or in community with others, and in public or private, and to manifest their religion or belief through teaching, practice, worship and observance, including through transparent and non-discriminatory laws, regulations, practices and policies.
This is an integral part of the wide concept of security that we are addressing today, which includes, but goes far beyond, the physical protection of Christians and of their worship places and objects. It is well known that manifestations of discrimination and intolerance, if not correctly addressed, may end up threatening the security of individuals and may give rise to wider-scale conflict and violence that undermine international stability and security. While praising the efforts of participating States in this regard, we regret that incidents against Christians are still often underestimated and do not receive appropriate attention by the national authorities or the media. The lives of many are being affected only because of their Christian faith, which is itself an essential source for values such as tolerance and equality.
Furthermore, I would like to draw your attention to another worrying trend. In fact, we have to acknowledge some aggressively orchestrated actions, especially in the media and in public discourse, against Christians and all others who express peacefully their religious views, traditions and values. This seems to be true in particular for those who defend human nature from being reduced to mere matter and from the new ideological colonization that invades human thought, under the pretence of virtue, modernity and new attitudes, and which is contemptuous of reality as God has created it. Freedom of expression on these issues seems to be threatened, and believers who share publicly their convictions are often labelled as intolerant or accused of bigotry. In other words, the peaceful contribution of religion to public life seems not only to be rejected, but also contested. In this regard, allow me to reiterate that where fundamental freedoms are questioned, security also can be endangered.
In conclusion, we call upon participating States to act resolutely to protect Christians in their territories and to address properly, including by adequate legislative measures, all cases of intolerance, discrimination, hate crimes, and violent
incidents against Christian individuals, communities and places or objects of worship. Furthermore, we encourage them also to address the new forms of discrimination, including in the mass-media and in public debates, and report and condemn these incidents promptly. The active role of state authorities in protecting and promoting tolerance and non-discrimination can truly assure peace and security, as well as contributing to creating a peaceful environment where Christians, as well as all other religious groups, can freely profess and practise their faith.
In the Ministerial Council meeting in Basel in 2014, participating States, after adopting the Declaration on enhancing efforts to combat anti-Semitism agreed to advance the elaboration of other Ministerial Council Declarations that could effectively combat intolerance and discrimination against Muslims, Christians and members of other religions. It is regrettable that two years later, due to hesitations from some participating States, we seem no closer to making good on our tasking to ourselves. The Holy See recognizes the attempt made by the German Chairmanship prior to the Ministerial Council in Hamburg, and the interest and engagement of so many Delegations, especially those who in good faith took an active part in the discussion, regardless of their views. Despite our lack of success so far – actually because of it – the Holy See calls on the incoming Austrian Chairmanship to devote a meeting of the Human Dimension Committee next year to this Basel tasking.
Thank you, Madam Moderator.
BY MONSIGNOR JANUSZ URBAŃCZYK
PERMANENT REPRESENTATIVE OF THE HOLY SEE,
AT THE CONFERENCE ON COMBATING INTOLERANCE AND DISCRIMINATION AGAINST CHRISTIANS
14 December 2016
SESSION II. SHARING BEST PRACTICES: EDUCATIONAL APPROACHES AND
First of all, the Delegation of the Holy See would like to thank the introducers for their interesting and insightful presentations.
In our pluralistic societies, we recognize the contribution religions make to the shaping of culture, to encouraging dialogue and to fostering mutual understanding. Yet sometimes we witness the marginalization of, and hostility towards, religions and believers, which can constitute intolerance and discrimination and can lead to hatred and violent acts.
A fundamental principle of the Christian vision of things is to seek the common good instead of the merely personal. For Christians, as Pope Francis has written in his Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, “the whole is greater than the part, but it is also greater than the sum of its parts”. [Christians] constantly have to broaden [their] horizons and see the greater good which will benefit us all.”1 This approach, for example, allowed Europe, based on its religious roots, to be capable of reconciling diverse cultural traditions and this approach still allows Christians today to seek mutual understanding, open to an increased sharing of the values of each one.
I would like to stress, in particular, two aspects of the topic proposed for discussion during this Session.
The first one is the key role of education in promoting tolerance and non-discrimination since it addresses the root causes of the phenomenon.
1 Apostolic Exhortation EVANGELII GAUDIUM, No. 235.
In this regard, it is to be hoped that governments and leaders commit themselves to ensure that all can have the minimum spiritual and material means needed to live in dignity, including the right to education and religious freedom.2 In order that education is able to ensure integral human development, it should be used as a means to build bridges. In fact, one of the greatest temptations nowadays is to build walls instead of bridges, and this is sometimes even achieved through education. As Pope Francis said, “the biggest failure [….] is to educate “within the walls.”. Educating within walls: walls of a selective culture, the walls of a culture of safety, the walls of a social sector that is well-off and goes no further ahead.”3
Bearing in mind that this “temptation” is often widespread, in Brussels Ministerial Council Decision 13/06 the Participating States have recognized the value of cultural and religious diversity as a source of mutual enrichment of societies and the importance of integration as a key element to promote mutual respect and understanding. Indeed, religious values should be considered an enriching integral component of a society rather than the expression of a subculture that is not linked with public life. Furthermore, in Ljubljana Ministerial Council Decision 10/05 the Participating States have encouraged public and private educational programmes that promote tolerance and non-discrimination, and raise public awareness of the existence and the unacceptability of intolerance and discrimination, fighting prejudice, intolerance and discrimination against Christians as well as Muslims and other religions. The Holy See firmly believes that education is a tool at our disposal to build bridges for peace and stability and to raise our youth as peace-makers and promoters of true tolerance and non-discrimination.
The second aspect is the crucial role of constructive dialogue, within the public debate in promoting tolerance and non-discrimination against Christians. The misuse of dialogue can create and reinforce patterns of intolerance and discrimination. On the contrary, its wise use can contribute to humanizing relations among people but also among governments, and can foster and develop a correct, mature and respectful public opinion. As Pope Francis has written in his Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, social dialogue is a contribution to peace. In this regard, also interreligious dialogue could be a tool which reinforces mutual understanding and builds confidence in order to reduce intolerance and discrimination.
Finally, to quote Pope Francis once again, “in her dialogue with the State andwith society, the Church does not have solutions for every particular issue. Together with the various sectors of society, she supports those programmes which best respond to the dignity of each person and the common good. In doing this, she proposes in a clear way the fundamental values of human life and convictions which can then find expression in political activity.”4
Thank you, Mr Moderator.
- Meeting with the members of the General Assembly of the United Nations Organization, Address of the Holy Father, September 2015.
- Address of Pope Francis to the participants at the World Congress promoted by the Congregation for Catholic Education, 21 November 2015.
- Apostolic Exhortation EVANGELII GAUDIUM, No. 241.
RECOMMENDATIONS OF PERMANENT MISSION OF THE HOLY SEE,
AT THE CONFERENCE ON COMBATING INTOLERANCE AND DISCRIMINATION
14 December 2016
Some additional recommendations to those already proposed during the previous session of this conference.
- We call upon State authorities to take into consideration the contributions of religious organizations and of their leaders concerning matters of common good and the development of society, including in the decision-making processes.
- We call upon authorities to respect and protect religious education in society. We also encourage them to support educators, including families, schools, and religious organizations, to develop and strengthen education programmes that can promote mutual understanding between different cultures and religions, as well as universal values such as respect for the inherent dignity of every human being and solidarity.
- We invite all actors to engage in an open and constructive dialogue on religious issues. In fact, we seem to witness a certain timidity to undertake a serious dialogue on religious issues and a reluctance to deal with them, which may prevent us from further advancing in our efforts towards mutual understanding.
- We express appreciation to the ODIHR for any initiative it may develop aimed at enhancing the security of Christian communities as well as capacity-building programs for improving the prevention and response to hate crimes, including the training on hate crimes for representatives of Christian churches and for Christian Civil Society.
Finally, since ODIHR Director Michael Link has recently confirmed that next year will see concrete progress in the drafting of guidelines for educators on countering intolerance and discrimination against Christians, reflecting guidelines on intolerance and discrimination against other religious groups, the Holy See does not need to repeat its recommendations on this point. However, this delegation thanks the
BY MONSIGNOR JANUSZ URBAŃCZYK
PERMANENT REPRESENTATIVE OF THE HOLY SEE,
AT THE CONFERENCE ON COMBATING INTOLERANCE AND DISCRIMINATION AGAINST CHRISTIANS
14 December 2016
SESSION III: THE WAY FORWARD. PREVENTING AND RESPONDING TO INTOLERANCE AND DISCRIMINATION, BY BUILDING TRUST BETWEEN COMMUNITIES
At the end of this Conference, my Delegation wishes to thank once again the German OSCE Chairmanship and ODIHR for their efforts in preparing this important event and for providing us all with a platform to discuss the burning issue of intolerance and discrimination against Christians. Many thanks also to introducers for their interesting and insightful presentations.
The previous sessions have given us the opportunity to reflect on various aspects of intolerance and discrimination against Christians as well as more broadly on freedom of religion and belief. A freedom “which shapes the way we interact socially and personally with our neighbors whose religious views differ from our own.”1 As enshrined in the principles of the OSCE, freedom of religion is a key for security, stability and peace, and it allows that mutual understanding which is increasingly important in our globalized world. This session now calls us to reflect on how building reciprocal trust can contribute both to preventing and to responding to, violations of that freedom and episodes of intolerance and discrimination.
The key to prevention is to recognize that religion, with its values and traditions, can significantly contribute to the enrichment and development of society, and to creating a peaceful environment where everybody is free to profess and practice his faith. As Pope Francis has recalled, “religion itself, the religious dimension, is not a subculture, it is part of the culture of every people and every nation. [Religions] remind us of the transcendent dimension of human existence and our irreducible freedom in the face of any claim to absolute power.”2 As a matter of fact, religions have an enduring capacity to open new horizons, to stimulate thought,
- Pope Francis, Meeting for religious liberty with the Hispanic Community and other immigrants, 26 September 2015.
to expand the mind and heart,3 feeding mutual trust among people and communities. We therefore call upon participating States to acknowledge such a role and to enable Christians to fully participate in public life. We also urge authorities to condemn, including with adequate legislative measures, the use of and incitement to violence on religious grounds. In this regard, as Pope Francis has repeatedly affirmed, no violent act, including terrorism, should ever be predicated on religion or belief.
Already emphasized earlier today, we are sadly witnessing that all around the world religious freedom seems not only to be reduced to a marginal sight, but in some cases, is actively suppressed. In the OSCE region, discrimination and intolerance against Christians is increasing, leading to mistrust, hatred and even to episodes of violence against believers and of vandalism against places or objects of worship. This is the reason we convened here today, to address jointly this challenge for our common security area. Moreover, Christians are frequently discouraged from practising their faith and sharing their values, as they are fearful of being attacked or insulted. The forms of intolerance against Christians stem from what Pope Francis calls the “globalization of the technocratic paradigm,”4 which consciously strives to impose uniformity and seeks to eliminate all differences and traditions under the false justification of unity. Thus, religious leaders and believers have not only the right but also the duty to show that it is possible to build a society where “a healthy pluralismwhich respects differences and values them as such [is a] precious ally in the commitment to defending human dignity […] and a path to peace in our world.”5
Mr Moderator, to face these challenges and to respond to intolerance and discrimination against Christians it is fundamental to build, or even re-build, trust. First of all, while already praising efforts in this regard, we call upon all participating States to uphold firmly the many commitments related to freedom of religion or belief we have agreed to since the very founding of our Organization. With the Helsinki Final Act of 1975, at a time when the very existence of religion was questioned, we promised “to respect human rights and fundamental freedoms, including the freedom of thought, conscience, religion or belief, for all without distinction as to race, sex, language or religion.”6 After Helsinki, we have developed together several effective tools to make this promise real. Among others, for instance, Kyiv Ministerial Council Decision 3/13 commits us to promote dialogue between religious or belief communities and governmental bodies, and to encourage the inclusion of religious and belief communities in public discussions.
In fact, dialogue is the key to fight intolerance, but to have an effective dialogue we need trust. The Holy See encourages governments, followers of the various religious traditions as well as all other actors in society to engage in an exercise of mutual understanding and to join their voices in calling for tolerance as well as in promoting and living the rediscovery of encounter with others. Only in this
- Pope Francis, Apostolic Exhortation EVANGELII GAUDIUM, No. 256.
- Pope Francis, Encyclical Letter LAUDATO SI’, No. 106.
- Pope Francis, Apostolic Exhortation EVANGELII GAUDIUM, pp. 255 and 257.
- Helsinki Final Act.
way, we will be able to achieve that culture of encounter that Pope Francis has invoked many times. My Delegation would also encourage the incoming OSCE Chairmanship and participating States to keep this topic high on the agenda of our Organization.
To conclude, the Holy See reiterates its full and tireless commitment to build trust through frank, open and direct dialogue with State authorities and other religious organizations. “Such dialogue is particularly crucial in our multipolar societies. In fact, if religions are not part of the solutions, they may easily become part of the problem.”7
Thank you, Mr Moderator,
source: Vatican Radio
(Agenzia Fides) – The accusations launched by the al-Azhar Observatory against the Coptic Church with regards to anti-Islamic television programs broadcast by the channels of the NileSat platform were rejected by the spokespersons and representatives of the Egyptian Coptic community.
In recent days, al-Azhar Observatory an organization linked to the Sunni University of Al Azhar, created in 2014 as a tool to monitor and denounce the spread of radical and extremist doctrines through the media – had accused the Coptic Church of being responsible of the al-Hayat satellite channel, which often broadcasts critical programs regarding the Islamic religion. According to the Observatory, such programs “increase hatred and resentment, threaten the security of society and spread extremist ideas”. Father Boulos Halim, spokesman for the Coptic Orthodox Church, rejected the allegations, pointing out in a television interview that the Coptic Church has no connection with the properties of al-Hayat channel, and does not intervene in any way in its programming, and disapproves of all programs that foment sectarianism and violence. Even the Coptic commentator Isaac Ibrahim criticized the provocative statement of al-Azhar Observatory, especially for choosing to spread accusations against the Coptic Church during for Christmas season. (GV) (Agenzia Fides 04/01/2016)
(Voice of the Persecuted) Tuesday, 4 Nov. 2014, was very dark in Pakistan. Pakistani Christians reside in the face of constant danger, and today their hearts are breaking.
In the town of Kasur (Chak 59 village near Kot Radha Kishan) province of Punjab, Shahzad Masih(28) and his pregnant wife Shama(25) were brutally tortured, thrown into a brick kiln furnace and burned to death in an act of sheer barbarism by a vicious mob. The couple had three children, Shama was expecting their fourth child.
Their crime? Allegedly desecrating a copy of the Koran.
The couple worked in ‘bonded labor’ for Yousaf Gujjar at his brick kiln for the last 3-4 years and lived in quarters on the premises.
It’s reported that while cleaning their quarters, Shama came across some amulets from her deceased father-in-law who she said had practiced ‘black magic’. She burnt the amulets and threw them on a garbage heap. A Muslim co-worker noticed the burnt pieces of paper from the amulets and accused her of burning pages from the holy Quran.
The accusation spread quickly through Mosque loud speakers inciting the local Muslims rage. As tensions grew, their employer feared the couple would flee the area to save themselves from violence. There was a dispute over money owed to him from an apparent advance. Advancing cash to employees is illegal but a common practice in Pakistan. This detrimental practice forces them into bonded labor, which may take many years to pay back due to extremely high interest rates of these loans. They end up as virtual slaves of their employers in modern day slavery.
According to reports, he had the couple locked up in a room for a few days prior to the horrific attack. Unable to escape, they were drug from this room by the enraged mob that was led by a local cleric claiming they had desecrated the Koran.
Sharia law dictates this as blasphemy and carries a brutal death sentence. But this sentence was carried out without a trial, without mercy and without judges. The mob became judge, jury and executioner, while the couple screamed for mercy and denied all charges. It is said that they broke their legs so they could not run, brutally beat them, then threw them into the furnace fire. (More)
It appears that the police sided with the murderers. President Sharif has ordered a committee to investigate, but there are those who called for the UN to intervene.
Lahore (Agenzia Fides) – “We are shocked and worried. Christians in Pakistan are now wondering: what country do we live in? The horrible and barbaric execution of a Christian couple, accused of blasphemy, is an act that offends justice, human rights, human dignity, civilization, and is contrary to the rule of law. Today we will demonstrate for justice and human rights in Lahore. On the blasphemy law, we call for the UN to intervene”: this is what Fr. James Channan OP, a Dominican, Director of the “Peace Center” in Lahore, research center engaged in inter-religious dialogue said in an interview with Agenzia Fides, commenting on the murder of the Christian couple, burned alive in the district of Kasur in Punjab (see Fides 04/11/2014).
“I am convinced that the married couple did not commit blasphemy. And even if the accusation were verified, there are procedures to be followed. We cannot allow lynching or a mass execution to be carried out by those who believe they are above the law. This is a strong request to the government”, notes Fr. Channan. In fact, “for incidents of violence which occurred in the past (in Gojra, in Shantinagar and other places) none of the guilty were punished. Impunity fuels violence. We ask the Special Commission created by the Government of Punjab to submit a report immediately and to punish those involved in this barbaric act”, adds the priest.
Yesterday, to express their outrage and to demand justice and respect for the law, many Christian organizations and civil society groups that defend human rights, along with Muslim citizens, will gather in the street in Lahore. The Dominican concludes: “We will ask the UN to intervene. Careful and neutral analysis is needed with regards to the blasphemy law, its exploitation and its consequences. We call for a special UN commission to come to Pakistan. If this law is not stopped and corrected, there will be more accidents and tragedies like this”.
Recently, the area has seen numerous incidents of violence that have taken place between Christians and Muslims.
Those who have fled this horrendous law and torture are crying, heartbroken and shocked. A persecuted Pakistani Christian who was forced to take refuge in another country told Voice of the Persecuted, “I am crying, I want to go back and help, but I will be a target and killed.”
These precious brethren have been targeted for blasphemy, often under false charges. How can Pakistan’s Blasphemy law be considered anything but barbaric and medieval, in our modern day? How can this be allowed in a world that prides itself on freedom for all? Why does Pakistan continue to receive billions of dollars in aide from freedom loving, Western nations? Why are they not held accountable for the human rights abuses and atrocities? Where is the U.N? The heart of the world has gone cold and silent.
Three children have needlessly become orphans. Not only have they lost their parents, but their sibling. How do we explain this senseless act to them? How can we prevent the same violence from happening to them, or others in the future?
PAKISTANI CHRISTIANS NEED YOUR PRAYERS! And pressure must be put on Pakistan to protect all of it’s citizens, regardless of stature, ethnicity, or religion.
Voice of the Persecuted strongly condemns this shocking and tragic event.
We call on the Pakistani Government to bring each and every individual responsible for this deplorable act of violence to immediate justice.
We implore Islamic clerics who too often are found inciting such mob violence to publicly denounce these reprehensible attacks. And that the Pakistan government hold them accountable as accomplices when instigating these criminal acts of the violence now and in the future.
We ask that the nation of Pakistan develop programs to educate against prejudices and intolerance of Christians and other religious minorities. And to continue in advancing a Pakistan where all citizens may live in peace without fear.
To establish mandatory education of ALL Pakistani children (boys and girls). Illiteracy forces a large number of minorities into bonded labor making them easy targets for a life of discrimination, unspeakable abuses and death. Free them from this illegal practice! Many great minds have come from Pakistan. Please give all children the opportunity to make successful contributions to your society, to further enhance your country in the future.
We ask that the blasphemy law to be immediately repealed, which is continually misused to settle personal scores in which minorities are unfairly targeted.
We ask the international community to hold the government of Pakistan accountable, pressuring them to take and enforce firm action to deter and completely eliminate these types of attacks in the future.
To all nations, we ask that future aid and other relations with Pakistan be curtailed in the light of Pakistan’s steadfast refusal to grant Christians and other religious minorities basic human rights. Pakistan ought not receive any but the most urgent humanitarian aid until these totalitarian laws are repealed. And until true and lasting efforts are made by the government for real change in Pakistan.
We also call for the UN to immediately act and intervene.
Voice of the Persecuted is helping to rescue from suffering by supporting Christians fleeing persecution in Pakistan. We cannot continue the work without your generous support. Help us reach life saving goals by partnering with us in the mission.
Recommended: Read a Persecuted Christian’s message to the West for a true account of the reality of life for Christians in Pakistan HERE.
May be shared, or reprinted with credit to VOICE OF THE PERSECUTED
LAHORE, Pakistan (Morning Star News) – Compliance with an order that only the death sentence can be given to those convicted of insulting Islam’s prophet will further endanger Christians and increase the powers of the Islamic court that issued it, critics said.
While Christians fear that government compliance with the Federal Shariat Court’s (FSC) Dec. 4 order to remove life imprisonment as a punishment for insulting Muhammad could usher in a new era of persecution, some critics say the greater concern is that it could broaden the powers of the controversial court.
Section 295-C of Pakistan’s blasphemy laws calls for either death or life imprisonment for persons convicted of insulting Muhammad. The FSC has given the government a “couple of months” to implement, through parliament, the order to remove life imprisonment as a possible punishment.
The FSC order comes less than three years after assassinations of two government officials silenced most criticism of the blasphemy laws.
While the ruling could further encourage extremists to attack those they believe are insulting Muhammad, the FSC order may have little specific legal impact since judges have tended to issue death penalty sentences for such convictions anyway, according to Yasser Latif Hamdani, who practices law in superior courts.
“This is a guideline that the courts have already followed,” Hamdani told Morning Star News. “The problem is that it has symbolic significance. It opens the door for the Federal Shariat Court to exercise greater influence on the legal system. Will the FSC also rule that insanity is not a defense?”
Hamdani said he hoped that the order would land before the Supreme Court’s Shariat Appellate Bench, “which may take a more positive and liberal view,” he said.
Attorney Shoaib Salim of the Lahore High Court also expressed hope that it could be reversed.
“The FSC is only empowered to examine and determine whether the laws of the country comply with sharia [Islamic law] or not,” Salim said. “The ultimate decision rests with the parliament.”
He said it was unlikely that the government would implement an order that would further incite religious hatred and persecution in Pakistani society. The blasphemy laws have been routinely abused to settle personal vendettas as antagonists can easily level false accusations that ruin lives.
Since its establishment in 1980, the FSC has been the subject of criticism and controversy. Created as an Islamization measure by the military regime of Gen. Muhammad Zia-ul Haq, and subsequently protected under the controversial 8th Amendment, the FSC has opponents who question its existence and usefulness. Comprising eight Muslim judges, including three required to be Islamic law scholars (Ulema), the court exercises jurisdiction over criminal courts deciding Hudood cases, which involve punishments prescribed by Islamic writings.
Critics say the FSC merely duplicates the functions of superior courts and contravenes the authority of parliament. They allege that the way its judges are appointed and retained is tainted, and that the court does not fully meet criterion for an independent judiciary.
The FSC’s decisions are binding on high courts as well as on subordinate judiciary. Appeals against its decisions lie with the Shariat Appellate Bench of the Supreme Court, consisting of three Muslim judges of the Supreme Court and two Islamic scholars appointed by the president.
Misuse of the blasphemy laws in Pakistan has long been debated, but the assassination of two top government officials and a senior judge in the last decade and a half has silenced even the most vocal critics.
Former Punjab Gov. Salmaan Taseer’s own police bodyguard gunned him down on Jan. 4, 2011 for calling for a review of the blasphemy laws and giving moral support to a woman sentenced to death for alleged blasphemy. Two months later, on March 2 of that year, Federal Minister for Minority Affairs Shahbaz Bhatti was assassinated in Islamabad; members of the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan, or Pakistani Taliban, claimed responsibility. He had faced threats on his life for voicing opposition to the blasphemy laws.
The Rt. Rev. Michael Nazir-Ali, former Lord Bishop of Rochester, United Kingdom, and current president of the Oxford Centre for Training, Research, Advocacy and Dialogue, said the FSC verdict is a cause of concern for Pakistani Christians.
“Everyone knows how the blasphemy laws are misused in this country,” Dr. Nazir-Ali, on a visit to Pakistan, told Morning Star News. “During several of our engagements with the Pakistani government, we have repeatedly asked them to deal with blasphemy cases with utmost care and consideration to ensure that there’s no miscarriage of justice. No blasphemy case should be registered without proper investigation at the highest government level regardless of whether the accused is a Christian or of another faith.”
Islamist Clerics Defiant
Pakistan’s top Islamist clerics, meantime, have not only pushed for greater FSC powers but declared that they will not tolerate any amendments to the blasphemy laws.
A few days after nearly 150 Christian homes were burned to the ground in March by violent Muslim mobs in Lahore’s Joseph Colony over allegations that a Christian youth had insulted Muhammad, top Sunni Islamist clerics led by Ruet-e-Hilal Committee Chairman Mufti Muneebur Rehman recommended that all persons accused of blasphemy should be tried by the FSC.
The clerics also opposed the imposition of penalty for the accusers in such cases, arguing that no punishment existed for falsehood in other cases. Mufti Muneeb also demanded that defamation of sacred religious personalities should be declared a crime under international law.
Punishment for false witness does have some advocates. After much lobbying, in September Pakistan Ulema Council Chairman Allama Tahir Ashrafi strove to make the country’s top religious body, the Council of Islamic Ideology (CII), recommend the death sentence for those making false blasphemy accusations. Ashrafi believes that such a law was necessary as a deterrent.
Hardliners in the CII, however, shot down Ashrafi’s initiative.
“I have been relentlessly protesting the misuse of the blasphemy laws,” Ashrafi said. “This is not only bringing a bad name to Pakistan but also the entire Muslim Ummah [community]. It’s a pity that the other religious leaders failed to understand the importance of a strong deterrent for false accusers. Those making a false accusation needed to face death penalty because the words attributed to the accused were actually uttered by the accuser.”
CII Chairman Maulana Muhammad Khan Sheerani said a majority of the CII members believed there was no need to amend the blasphemy laws.
“We don’t want to discourage people from coming forward and lodging complaints against blasphemers,” he said. “There’s already a law – Section 194 of the Pakistan Penal Code – which envisages punishments for lodging a false FIR.”
Sheerani, who believes the FSC order removing life in prison for those convicted under Section 295-C was in line with Islamic injunctions, said the FSC was the right forum to decide blasphemy cases.
“Laws relating to Islam should be decided by the FSC,” he said. “Our senior clerics have already recommended that such cases be decided within three months. If the suspect is found innocent, the false accuser can be tried under the relevant section of the PPC [Pakistan Penal Code],” he said.
Napolean Qayyum, a Christian rights activist, said the ruling would usher in a new era of persecution.
“We have seen people taking the law into their own hands and deciding for themselves what the punishment should be,” Qayyum said. “This ruling will only embolden elements who use the blasphemy laws to target the weak and marginalized communities of this country. How many more innocent lives would it take for the government to realize that it needs to do something to bring an end to this victimization?”
Attorney Aneeqa Maria, head of Christian rights group The Voice Society, told Morning Star News that Pakistan’s blasphemy laws have no standards for evidence or for proof of intent, even though intent must be shown for a conviction, as well as no procedural safeguards to penalize those who make false allegations.
“They are a constant sword hanging over our heads, and no government has so far been able to stop their blatant misuse,” Maria said. “Everyone knows how these laws are used as a tool for settling personal disputes, and now the FSC has taken this skeleton out of the closet after so many years. I believe this would encourage the accusers to try and get their victims implicated under Section 295-C.”