Silencing the dissent
Shamim Mehmood
Shamim Masih

Pakistani minorities under the leadership of Federal Minister for Human Rights, Kamran Michael are planning to celebrate Minorities’ Day on August 11. Pakistan Peoples’ Party (PPP) former government had declared August 11 as minorities’ day; however some minority groups chose to observe August 11 as black day to register their protest over the abuse of minority rights. Following the footsteps of the PPP government the present PML-N government has also announced to dedicate August 11 as minorities day.

On August 11, 1947, the founder of the nation Mr. Muhammad Ali Jinnah had announced the freedom for the minorities living in new born Pakistan. But it is very unfortunate that after sixty nine years, Pakistan is ranked sixth on the list of the countries where Christians are most persecuted, according to the World Watch List 2016.

The survey conducted by Open Doors, an organization working to help persecuted Christians and churched worldwide, highlights the top 50 countries where it is most difficult to live as Christians. The report found that Pakistan’s blasphemy laws are continue to be abused to settle personal scores, particularly against minorities, including Christians. “A Christian couple was thrown into the brick kiln where they worked and burned to death after being accused of blasphemy, orphaning their four children. Two churches in Lahore were bombed, killing 25 people and wounding dozens. An estimated 700 Christian girls and women are abducted every year and often then raped and forcibly married to Muslims,” the report added.

The list ranks North Korea as the most oppressive place in the world to live as Christian. It adds that in 2015, the persecution grew most rapidly in Sub-Saharan Africa, while in the Middle East Islamic States and Pakistan violence increased the migration of the Christian population from the region. The index measures the degrees of freedom that Christian have to express their faith in six spheres- private, family, community, national and church life, while also measuring levels of violence.

The European Parliament Intergroup on Freedom of Religion or Belief and Religious Tolerance has released its annual report for 2015 and showed serious concerns over the minorities’ situation in Pakistan, especially the issues pertaining to the country’s blasphemy laws. Giving reference of the assassinated Punjab governor Salman Taseer and Shahbaz Bhatti for raising their voices against the blasphemy laws in Pakistan, especially in Asia Bibi case, the report expressed that although the Supreme Court of Pakistan in a positive development has expressed its concerns about widespread misuse of blasphemy laws and issued a detailed judgment warning against false blasphemy accusations and stating that in Islam a false accusation can be as serious as blasphemy itself, but unfortunately, criticizing the reforms to blasphemy laws in public was still dangerous in any Pakistan society. The report further stated that terrorist groups like Taliban have continued to severely persecute religious minorities, especially the Christian community, considering it an agent of the west and in revenge of the western intervention such as US drone strikes in Pakistan areas. The report also gave the reference of blasts and firing in churches in Youhanabad and Iqbal Park on the eve of Easter celebrations.

Earlier hundreds of the Christians houses in Gojra and Joseph Colony, Lahore were set ablaze. And twin blasts in Peshawar Church killed at least 80 and hundred were injured.

Where is Quaid’s Pakistan?

The report further disclosed that due to religious persecution, around 11,000 Christians are seeking asylum in Thailand. A Hindu parliamentarian claimed that 5000 Hindus emigrate from Pakistan every year due to discriminatory treatment, forced conversions and fears of their safety. The report stated that in the months of April and May 2016, it was also reported that as many as 18 Christians’ girls were kidnapped and forcefully converted in the Punjab province only.

Due to the religious persecution thousands of Christian families are looking for their future in Thailand. It is pertinent to mention that European countries do not encourage Pakistani Christian visitors. Even these countries adopt stricter policy when find the applicant from the same faith. Most recently “World Youth Day 2016” was held in Poland and reportedly there were more than six thousands applicants but Poland embassy rejected maximum visa applications on frivolous grounds and granted only 400 – 500 visas to Pakistani Christian. The weird part of the story is that journalists’ visa applications were denied without any cogent reasons. The officials in EU countries on the condition of anonymity said the visa officers had orders from the “higher level” to reject the maximum number of visas from the Christians background. It means, poor Pakistani Christians face the same behavior from the either side.

Cyber Crime Bill 2015

The Cyber Crime Bill 2015, tabled by the Minister of State for IT aims at regulating the online conduct of individuals/organizations. The Bill passed by the Senate now awaits final approval by the NA before the president enacts it into law. The controversial Bill has been criticized by the IT industry and civil society for curbing human rights and giving enormous power to law enforcement agencies. It certainly intended to leash the power of social media, given its increasingly transformational role in shaping public opinion and holding rulers accountable. No doubt, it aims silencing the dissent.