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Pakistan - Appeal for the release of blasphemy law protestors

15 January 2001

Letter to H.E. General Pervaiz Musharraf, Chief Executive of Pakistan, 15 January 2001.

Your Excellency,

The World Council of Churches has learnt with deep concern of the arrests of Fr Arnold Heredia, former Executive Secretary of the Committee for Justice and Peace, and presently the priest of St Francis Parish in Karachi, and a Council member of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan; Mr Aslam Martin, project co-coordinator for the Committee for Justice and Peace; Mr Riaz Nawab of Caritas, Karachi; and fourteen others on 10th January, while they were engaged in  a peaceful demonstration near the Rainbow Center, Saddar, Karachi. The protestors were taking part in the procession to the Governor's House, organised by the newly formed All Faith Spiritual Movement, to submit a memorandum demanding the repeal of the Blasphemy Law.

According to reports we have received, the peaceful demonstrators were not only restrained from proceeding to the Governor's House but they were also tear-gassed and beaten by the security forces. As a result Fr Heredia and some of the other protestors were injured. The seventeen protestors are presently under detention on remand by the authorities at the Preedy Police Station.

The World Council of Churches has previously drawn the attention of the Government of Pakistan to the serious situation that has arisen as a result of discriminatory practices and of persecution of religious minorities in Pakistan including Christians, Ahmadiyas and Hindus. Extremist forces and groups have in particular used the blasphemy law to incite religious hatred and animosity against these religious minorities. These incidences have been well documented by both national and international organisations, including the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan. They have greatly contributed to the growing environment of religious intolerance often resulting in serious disturbances of law and order and serious abuses of human rights.

These developments are in violation of Article 36 of the Constitution of Pakistan that guarantees the legitimate rights and interests of the minorities. Despite the assurances given to the religious minorities by Quaid-e-Azam, Mohammed Ali Jinnah that "minorities are a sacred trust of Pakistan," their security is not protected and they continue to be victimised at the hands of unscrupulous sections of the society. We have thus appealed to the Government of Pakistan to take immediate steps to repeal Section 295 C of the Pakistan Penal Code.

It was not in defiance, but in defence of the Constitution of Pakistan that the above-mentioned persons presently under police detention peacefully protested, demanding repeal of the blasphemy law. We therefore urge you to assure their immediate release, their protection from unlawful abuse from any quarter, and at the same time to guarantee the security and physical integrity of others under your jurisdiction presently charged under the blasphemy law.

                                                                                                                                               Respectfully yours,

                                                                                                                                               Georges Lemopoulos
                                                                                                                                               Acting General Secretary