Tuesday, 5 July 2011

Marching for justice and religious freedom - Report by "Aid to the Church in Need"

 Image of Neville Kyrke-Smith and Wilson Chowdhry submitting petitions to 10 Downing Street.

A Scottish Bag Piper led the protest with tunes such as Amazing Grace!

Hundreds march on a quest for justice and equality for all in Pakistan.
PETITIONS calling for action to protect Christians and other minorities in Pakistan have been handed in at London’s 10 Downing Street.

The documents bearing the names of more than 2,000 people were presented at Number 10 by an ecumenical delegation which included Neville Kyrke-Smith, UK director of Aid to the Church in Need.

The visit to the Prime Minister’s residence on Saturday (2nd July) came at the climax of a two-mile protest march highlighting human rights violations in Pakistan.

Both the march and the petitions called for reforms to Pakistan’s Blasphemy Laws, which impose sentences including execution and life imprisonment for offences against Islam.

The Pakistan authorities have been widely criticised for inaction over widespread abuse of the laws and the petitions called for improved law enforcement.

Earlier this year, Punjab governor Salman Taseer and federal minorities’ minister Shahbaz Bhatti were killed after criticising the controversial legislation and related mob violence.

Tributes to Shahbaz Bhatti were paid at the event which was organised by Wilson Chowdhry and the British Pakistani Christian Association and involved Aid to the Church in Need as well as Christian Concern.

Sikh, Hindu and Muslim representatives also took part.

Keynote speeches were given by Mr Chowdhry, Andrea Minichello-Williams of Christian Concern, Manoj Raithatha of the Evangelical Alliance, Alan Craig, leader of the Christian People’s Alliance, Alison Ruoff, a member of the Synod of the Church of England, and the Rt Rev Michael Nazir Ali, former Bishop of Rochester, who is of Pakistani extraction.

Speaking outside 10 Downing Street, Neville Kyrke-Smith said: “We are at one with those who are persecuted in Pakistan and all those who suffer in connection with the Blasphemy Laws.

“As things currently stand, these are blasphemous Blasphemy Laws.

“We ask the government of David Cameron to ensure that religious rights are an essential part of discussions with other countries.”

His comments come after the British government was criticised in March for plans to increase UK aid to Pakistan in spite of an upsurge in reports of increased human rights’ violations, especially minorities.

More than 300 people took part in the march which started with a prayer service and speeches outside the High Commission for Pakistan in London’s Lowndes Square, where a copy of the petitions was handed in.

The petition signatories include Scotland’s Cardinal Keith O’Brien, Archbishop of St Andrews and Edinburgh.

Speaking before submitting the petition, Mr Chowdhry said: “The Pakistan government has got to realise the horrendous human rights abuses recorded in their country.”

Imam Dr Taj Hargey, from the Muslim Educational Centre of Oxford, condemned Pakistani extremists carrying out violence in the name of the Blasphemy Laws.

Quoting sources showing the Prophet Mohammed’s respect for Christians, he said: “The people who carry out such violence malign my faith and bring it into disrepute. They stand for everything I am against.”

Bishop Nazir Ali said: “The Blasphemy Laws are being used against Christians and people like the Ahmahdis [a religious group derived from Islam].

“The Blasphemy Laws are bad laws. The laws have destroyed Pakistan’s reputation in the international community.”

ACN UK’s John Pontifex, who has travelled widely in Pakistan, told the marchers: “The only way change can come to the people of Pakistan – especially minority groups – is if the Blasphemy Laws are amended.”

“Action is needed to safeguard the rights of Sikhs, Hindus, Christians and Muslims too.”

• Aid to the Church in Need is continuing to collect signatures for the reform of the Blasphemy Law and improved law enforcement in Pakistan. Visit www.acnuk.org/petition

The BPCA also have 3 ongoing Petitions:

Hear what Premier Christian Radio said about our 2nd July Protest!


Saturday's multi-faith protest against tyranny in Pakistan - did it have effect!

MNA Aasiya Nasir

On Saturday while a Muti-faith protest march to 10 Downing Street proceeded, a ground-breaking political meeting took  place in Pakistan.  Involving all minority Members of National Assembly (MNA's).  Aasiya Nasir a Christian MP reported on the meeting (sic): 

"Today Prime Minister called upon all the minority MNA's for consultation regarding the restructuring of new ministry for minorties as per his promise few weeks back & to make reforms for the minorities.

All the MNA's including Minister Akram gill and advisor to PM Dr.Paul Bhatti were present.We had an hour's meeting with the honourable Prime Minister he was very gracious and heard us humbly,we discussed all the issues regarding minorities,a three member committee has been set up and started working to restructure a new ministry for minority affairs very soon it will be notified.

We all gave proposals for the improvement in the ministry,PM directed to increase the funds and equally distribute among all the MNA's beyond party affiliations,we all demanded that immediate steps be taken to ensure a 5% quota in employment be implemented and PM to inquire regarding its status which he directed to ask for a report from establishment division.

I asked him to notify 5% quota for all professional colleges & institutions also which he told to consider in the cabinet meeting.Prime Minister was very considerate and we all appreciate his concerns regarding minorities and calling them his constituency,we are hopeful that in coming few weeks some positive developments will take place to remove the trust deficit that prevails among the suppressed community of Pakistan.

We all unanimously consented to have a new ministry for minorities and to introduce reforms to make it work more efficiently."