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Friday, 28 January 2011

Blasphemy Law of Pakistan debate - an update!

The delectable Maya Pastakia Amnesty International Campaigner for Afghanistan and Pakistan meets with Wilson Chowdhry after the debate.
As the debate ensued no tempers frayed - a remarkable gathering of the right people by a group that overtly has genuine concern for the situation in Pakistan.

Although we looked tired at the end of the event, I honestly believe people enjoyed participating and that it was a very useful foundation for future discussion.


Despite the clear banner and theme for the meeting discussion often left the topic?


Of 9 panelists only one speaker was from the Christian minority - it was nerve wracking.




The Blasphemy Law debate at SOAS Brunei organised by PIPA ian an extremely professional manner, was an auspicious affair. Considering the conflict with regards to panel guest position on the theme of the event "Is the Blasphemy Law Good For Pakistan?", I was expecting a more heated debate. However, the event went without any real tension and both the panel and visitors were able to discuss the situation in Pakistan amiably.

Often the debate diverted from the theme and I had to redirect the discussion to the Blasphemy Law and it's worth. My insistence on returning to the Blasphemy Law is not because of any naivety with respect to the convoluted situation in Pakistan, with it's variety of socio-economic factors. Not at all, actually it is because of a deep rooted belief that there are things that we can change relatively swiftly, such as the Blasphemy Law and prejudiced constitution of Pakistan. Cultural and social reform is something that will take decades, before we see any palpable change.

This meeting was powerful as so many influential people and groups attended and contributed to the deabate. The video clip at the bottom of this post means that a broad spectrum of Pakistani's will have gained enhanced understanding of the situation in Pakistan. It was suggested that a follow up discussion is undertaken in Urdu and I fervently agree. If we do not then how will we effectively reach the masses in Pakistan.

At the end of the meeting I met with Maya Pastakia - Campaigner for Afghanistan and Pakistan at Amnesty International. Since the meeting Maya has spoken words of encouragement for reform of the blasphemy laws that have given me great vigour to continue the campaign for justice:

"You spoke very well and made some extremely salient points about the misuse of the blasphemy laws. Well done....keep up the campaign for reform."

I clarify in brief some of the points made at the debate:

  • The need for withdrawal of the prejudiced labelling of Pakistani citizens by maintaining their faith in Passports and Shenakti (ID) cards.

  • Suggested of a return to the Original 295c that was set as a public disorder act rather than a blasphemy law and equally protected the rights of people of all faiths or none.
  • Questioned the need to protect a divine faith by a carnal law. With a purported majority Muslim population of 96% is there need for the Blasphemy Law? Moreover does God depend on human help to retain and protect the truth of his message on the earth?
  • Queried the absence of cases enacted under section 153A of the Pakistan Penal Code. This acts protects people from incitement of hatred and could be used to prosecute accusers of false blasphemy or people involved in ensuing violence.

  • Highlighted the fact that only 10 victims were charged under the Original section 295 of the Pakistan Penal Code before 1986. After Zia Islamified the act and introduced amendment 295A (forbidding outraging religious feeling) and 295B (forbidding defilement of the Quran Maximum sentence 10 years) in 1982. In 1986 under pressure from religious extremists a further amendment was made - 295c (forbidding insulting the prophet Muhammed). Our intent was to establish the need for return of the act back to it's original form, which is evidently a more compassionate and less misused law.

  • Challenged the need for Islamic studies in school and promoted the introduction of a broad based religious education, that would espouse better understanding of other faiths whilst removing ill-informed myths.

  • Talked of the educational divide in Pakistan - only 7% of minority faiths attain adequate literacy levels. Admittedly only 40% of the Muslim majority attain adequate literacy. I suggested that we should should tackle the disparity first, before we work on overall educational reform, if we honestly wish to promote equality.

  • Suggested reform of the Constitution of Pakistan to remove the Title "Islamic Republic of Pakistan" and the 2nd Article that states Islam is the state religion. I talked of how when the debate in parliament took place for the Secession of Pakistan, how 4 Christian MP's, Hindus and Sikhs voted in favour but the decision was tied. The decision had to be made by the speaker who himself was a Christian MP Singha. At the time they sided with the pragmatic and egalitarian leader of the separation Quaide Azam - who promised and spoke publicly of freedom for all faiths.

  • Suggested that better scrutiny of Ulema Councils should be undertaken by the government and that a standard code of practice drawn up prescribing measures for use of Mosque Public address systems. Explaining that a number of rogue Imams had stirred up hatred against communities responding to a local complaint without investigation. Not that they should have any remit to incite hatred - surely their role is one of counsellor to resolve community friction and dispute?
  • Talked of the peaceful harmony that people of all faiths can experience in the interlude to major incidents. I expressed a disbelief that 100% of Muslims wanted Sharia Law to be introduced and when I looked to the audience, I saw several visitors nodding approval.

Matters I did not discuss as I could not interject and the point had moved on:


  • The guest from PTI made a bizarre comment that no-one had been killed as a consequence of the existing mandatory death sentence in Pakistan. She failed to mention that 20 victims charged under the blasphemy law and a larger number of innocent people made vicariously liable by by the rantings of extremists preachers and groups? The recent case of Wajid and Sajid Masih two pastors shot dead outside Faisalabad, after being acquitted in July last year is a recent example.

  • Many Christians cannot afford education and subsidies or free education will have to form part of a concerted effort to improve literacy. The Majority of Christians work as domestic servants or sewerage workers, better employment and equality law is required and should be complimented by a rigid investigation and prosecution process for any breach.

  • Police are easily convinced by bribe and should receive better pay to prevent such deviance. A better and stricter tax regime is required to fund change.

  • Law courts and Police authorities should hold to an innocent until proven guilty philosophy and incarceration should not exceed the 24 Hours stipulated within the Pakistan Constitution.

  • Newspapers in Pakistan only talk of the extremist view and much was said about the Fatwa against Governor Taseer and the boycott of his funeral. Only the Jaang reported on our meeting with the High Commissioner when people from two minorities came together to share condolences with the existing Government, family of Governor Taseer and the Nation of Pakistan, who had lost a great humanitarian and their most progressive statesman.

A positive outcome at the meeting was that none of the Panel expressed support for the killing of Governor Taseer.


PIPA deserve great praise for planning and putting on such a wonderful event.

See a full video recording of the debate here:

http://www.tv786.net/

www.youtube.com/tv786

Wednesday, 26 January 2011

Police torture in Pakistan is it widespread?

Cramped wet conditions cells create health problems and depression.

Reprieve needs your help to show just how widespread police torture is in Pakistan.

They are now gathering personal accounts to create a body of evidence which the Pakistani authorities can no longer ignore.

If you know someone who has been tortured or abused by the Pakistan police, please contact them. There details can be found by clicking on the link below:

http://reprieve.org.uk/pakistanpolicetortureproject

Tuesday, 25 January 2011

“IS THE BLASPHEMY LAW GOOD FOR PAKISTAN”

On 26th January 6.30pm PIPA hosts a Roundtable Discussion on


PUBLIC DISCUSSION
Pakistani authorities charged 647 people with offences under the blasphemy laws between 1986 and 2007. Fifty per cent of the people charged were Muslim and 12 per cent were Christian. Some of those charged were murdered. PIPA & panellists will be discussing Pakistan's most contentious issue of 2011.

PIPA has been established to create a common voice for Pakistan. PIPA was founded by influential and enthusiastic individuals who are associated to Britain & Pakistan in a broad spectrum of ways and hope to fulfil their goals through various events media initiatives.

Venue: SOAS Brunei Gallery

Panellists:

Abdul Rehman Malik – programmes manager “Radical Middle Way” and formerly contributing editor of Q News Muslim magazine.

Hammad Khan is a film-maker and recently produced his first full-length critically acclaimed feature film ‘Slackistan’. His short films have all focused on themes of religion and Pakistani identity. He is also a media expert on censorship and media regulation through his role as a film examiner at the British Board of Film Classification.

Dr Iftikhar Ayaz – International human rights activist and member of UN human rights committee.

Rubia Dar is a TV producer & filmmaker who has produced documentaries with the BBC and Channel 4, including 9-11 "State of Emergency" and "Generation 7/7". She is a founder of PIPA.

Zachary Latif is an investment banker, with a speciality in distressed markets. He co-wrote the dramatic piece "Postcard from Jinnah" & writes for Brown Pundits.com. He is a founder of PIPA.

Mustafa Qadri is the Amnesty International liaison for Pakistan.

Wilson Chowdhry is the Vice Chairman of the British Pakistani Christian Association. Wilson is a Keen Humanitarian and Community Activist - named "Community Crimefighter" by Primeminster Gordon Brown in 2009. Wilson was awarded for "Bridging Communities" By Boris Johnson during the London Peace Awards 2010 and named Human Rights Champion by the the British Sikh Council 2010.


Abdullah Al-Andalusi is the director of The Muslim Debate Initiative, a public discussion forum that promotes open dialogue and debate.

Myra Qureshi is a management consultant with an advisory remit in investment banking. She is a leading social activist and maintains several advocacy fronts for liberalism within a Pakistani context.

Rabia Zia. She will be representing Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf, the political party founded by Imran Khan.

Wednesday, 19 January 2011

Working in unity can be hard but it is necessary.

Unity a pleasant thing when it is based on good foundation - let Christ be the rock!

Pakistan Minorities Rights Organisation (PMRO) organised a meeting in the greater London area recently, to assess the strategic response of Pakistani Christians living in the UK, to the recent events in Pakistan. A discussion also ensued on the overall situation of persecution due to religious intolerance. The meeting was held at St Paul's Church, Slough at 7:00 pm on Wednesday the 12th January 2011. This was a follow up meeting to a similar seminar conference held by Christian Social Link at the Heston united Reformed church, on the 7th January.

John Bosco kindly invited us to his meeting at Heston United Reform Church and we duly attended leaving a local hospital campaign early. Wilson was invited to speak on stage. It was a fairly productive meeting and contributors put forward a range of positive suggestions on how to highlight the situation in Pakistan and to bring about real change.

Disagreements arose (not just with Wilson) and although I was not sure a petition or protest was a good idea at this time. I offered the use of our sound equipment and promotion of our blog of any proposed event as a sign of our commitment to solidarity.

A notepad was placed on a table and people were asked to place their contact details within the book, if they were minded to continue the joint effort and attend future meetings. The BPCA wishes to be part of any cooperative body of Pakistani Christians and Wilson was the first to sign the book. You can imagine it was a shock to be informed by a colleague that another meeting had been arranged and we were not invited. Despite the shocked look on faces at the meeting at St Paul's, Wilson contributed what he could, arraiving late due to road major road works and an accident that forced the closure of one side of the A406.

We area aware that a protest has been arranged for February and are still awaiting further details but will cascade them to you.

One very positive outcome of the two meetings is that the Chairman changed at both meetings, the first was chaired by John Bosco, the second meeting was chaired by Asif Mall. Perhaps inadvertently we have found a solution to our problem of internal warring? Rather then selecting a leader from our ever growing list of worthy candidates, should we just ensure that a different leader chairs every meeting so that all leaders can basque in the glory of a unity, they have created by avoiding the selfish endeavour and divisive process, that a leadership challenge naturally induces?

Just thinking out loud - although I did mention this at St Paul's ...what do you think?

I hope that the administrative error that saw us precluded from the list of invitees to the St Paul's meeting is now corrected. If not just pray for greater unity and forgiveness amongst our brethren including us. Hey we still love you all...

Wilson and Alex Speak at House of Lords debate

Wilson Chowdhry, Baroness Finlay of Llanduff and alex Chowdhry before the debate began.

A very eventful debate occurred between minorities across the globe as leaders from minority communities of Argentina, Pakistan, Baluchistan, Iraq and Aremina and kurdistan sat around a table to forge a united approach for tackling the issue of international persecution. The event was organised by the "Forum for Unrepresented Nations and Minorities" as part of a Annual Hrant Dink Commemoration a humanitarian Journalist who died in Istanbul after speaking out against the Armenian Genocide. Read more (Here). The meetings are sponsored by Baroness Cox and Baroness Finlay of Llandaff.

A follow-up meeting is to be organised as the interesting debate went on for longer than expected. Baronees Cox has also asked for the BPCA to be more involved with her own work. Below we include Wilson Chowdhry's presentation:

My Lords ladies and gentlemen, I am grateful to the noble Baroness Finlay of Llandaff, for initiating this very necessary debate on human rights.

My Lords, In this presentation we provide evidence of the significant persecution and inequalities that Christians and other minorities face in Pakistan, as a consequence of their faith.

The British Pakistani Christian Association has, been working tirelessly for the last 2 years, trying to improve the situation for those Christians living in Pakistan. To describe every incident of persecution would require completion of a dossier. However for the purposes of this exercise, we will in brief, describe some of the case studies that are within our knowledge.

Gojra:

In a small town called Gojra (near Faisalabad) on August 1st 2009 a Christian community was attacked for a purported desecration of the Quran at a wedding – it was said that torn shreds of the Quran were used for confetti. Eight people were burnt alive, as 60 homes and a church were razed to the ground.

The attack was instigated by a local imam who preached hatred against the local Christians after a reported Quaran desecration was received via a local Muslim.

The aftermath was filmed by BBC South Asia showing the empty shells of burning homes.

Police confirmed after investigation that the allegations were false and several arrests were made. However no-one was brought to justice and little compensation was given to this beleaguered community.

Shazia Bashir:

On the 19th January 2010 Shazia Bashir a domestic servant of only 12 years, was presented to Jinnah Hospital, Lahore by her employers - she was pronounced dead on arrival. An initial medical report indicated she died gradually from a mix of; blows from a blunt instrument, wounds from a sharp-edged weapon, misuse of medicines and malnourishment. It is alleged that the landlord a Muhammed Naeem - former Lahore Bar Association President, offered 30,000 rupees to the family for their silence and informed them that she had an accident falling from the stairs.

Prior to her death Shazia’s parents had been given little access to their daughter and the parents have said on record, the one time they were allowed to see her during her employment she complained that the landlord and his were committing rape. Shazia is also said to have complained that the mother and sisters regularly beat her, that she was often unfed and that she was working excessive hours.

When the parents confronted Mr Naeem, they were thrown out of Mr Naeem’s house under threat of violent repercussions. Their daughter was dragged away by her hair.

When trying to lodge a complaint to local Police they were informed that a case could not be registered against anyone from the legal fraternity. 3 months later they received the offer for their silence.

A court hearing was scheduled in Lahore Session Courts for the 26th January 2010 and was stormed by Muslim lawyers. 300 rampaging lawyers scuffled with journalists and policemen as they embraced Mohammed Naeem, despite a significant Police presence? The judge was unable to proceed with the legal requirements of the case and had to adjourn the hearing.

On 13th February 2010 Muhammed Naeem was granted bail after purportedly fabricated evidence indicated that Shazia Bashir had died of “old wounds”. Muhammed Naeem has now absconded from a scheduled High Court hearing and is a fugitive.

Waris Pura siege:

On the 2nd July 2010 Sajid and Rashid Masih were arrested in Waris Pura (near Faisalabad), for a purported blasphemy. It was alleged that prior to the arrest a hand written leaflet containing offensive writings about Islam and about the Prophet Mohammed, was circulated in the area. The leaflet brought angry reaction among Muslims. The two brothers were accused of writing the leaflet (of which only 1 copy was ever produced). The Court ruled differently and acquitted them from the charge on 19th July 2010. The two brothers were exiting the court in celebration of the justice they had received, when they were shot down by unknown, masked gunmen.

The shooting occurred directly in front of the law courts from which they had only hours earlier, been found not guilty of blasphemy. Police protection was large and ample yet this incident occurred without any arrest made. To date no-one has been brought to justice.

As a consequence of the attack a peaceful protest for justice was held by Christians in Waris Pura. In retaliation the Muslim majority subjected Christians to a night long siege, unable to sleep or relax as gunshot rang around them. Many Christians were chased from their houses and businesses, and beaten in the streets. Prompt Police action prevented this incident becoming a more severe atrocity, however, on return to their homes and places of work, the victims discovered that they had been looted and subjected to vandalism.

Asia Bibi:

The case of Asia Bibi calls for consideration; Mrs. Bibi is a 45-year-old mother of five from Ittanwali (near Lahore) in Punjab province and has become the first Christian woman to be convicted under Pakistan’s blasphemy law. She has four daughters, one of whom is disabled, and a son.

Mrs. Bibi has spent the last year-and-a-half in gaol following an argument on 19th June 2009 with other women who were working with her in a field near Lahore. The Muslim women had refused to drink water that Mrs. Bibi had fetched because she was a Christian and they considered her and referred to her as “filth”. The refusal led to a discussion about religion, during which she is said to have compared the relative merits of Christianity and Islam. It is also said that the women had put her under pressure to renounce her Christian faith and embrace Islam.

No derogatory remarks were made regarding the Prophet Muhammad, apart from her observation that Muhammad was not crucified for their sins like Jesus Christ. Mrs. Bibi then asked what Muhammad had done for them. Such discussions amongst the adherents of different religions are an essential part of freedom of expression, as well as freedom of religion.

The women became very angry and began to beat Mrs. Bibi. She was locked in a room and her children were attacked by an angry mob. Some Christians informed the local police and had her put into protective custody. Later that evening, a blasphemy case under section 295C of the Pakistan Penal Code was registered against her after pressure was placed on the police by local Muslim leaders.

Mrs. Bibi was tried and sentenced to death by hanging by the Sessions Court in Sheikupura on 7th November 2010. The court also fined her £728, which is equivalent to two-and-a half years’ salary for an unskilled worker. A Pakistani Government minister said last week that an initial inquiry into the case found that Mrs. Bibi had not committed blasphemy, but was falsely accused after a quarrel. Following international pressure, Mrs. Bibi’s execution was stayed. She appealed her sentence and requested a pardon, but the Lahore High Court barred President Asif Ali Zardari from pardoning Mrs. Bibi on Monday, 29th November in response to a petition filed by a Pakistani citizen. On Monday, 6th December 2010 the Lahore High Court barred the Federal Government of Pakistan from making any amendments to the blasphemy laws until the Court gives its verdict on the petition in this case.

The British Pakistani Christian Association considers her to be a prisoner of conscience. They created an online petition that was delivered to the Prime Minister and the Pakistani Embassy on Thursday, 18th November. The petition attracted 2,662 signatures in just 8 days. There has been an international outcry about the case and the Pope has asked for clemency.

Until the Pakistan People’s Party implements its manifesto pledge and honour it’s commitment to these freedoms, evidenced in its ratification of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights on 23rd June 2010), by abolishing the blasphemy law and the intolerable abuses that are made of it - the occurrence of persecution of minority communities will continue to increase in intensity and frequency.

Above we have listed 4 of the worst cases of Christian persecution, however on March 22nd 2010 a Rashid Masih was axed to death by six Muslims in Miah Channu (Punjab), after refusing to recant the Christian faith and adopt Islam. It is reported that the men who attacked him were jealous of the success of his potato fields. The perpetrators of the crime have escaped justice by absconding and have still not been located.

A Trainee Nurse Magdalene Ashraf at 23 years of age, was purportedly raped and thrown from a hospital window at Ali Jinnah Hospital, Karachi. She was said to have been locked in Doctor Abdul Jabbar Memon’s offices and subjected to 2 days of debauchery. Nurse Magdalene recently refused to identify Dr Memon in a court hearing – after significant threats, that led to his release on Bail on Friday 10th December 2010.

Much of the inequality and prejudices in Pakistan are ingrained and a consequence of the often extremist theocratic society that has developed in the region. In fact when Pakistan was afforded independence it was as a result of a direct campaign by Mohammed Ali Jinnah to create a Muslim nation state. One of the key problems when tackling inequality of Pakistan is the presence of the legal bias created by the Blasphemy Law of Pakistan. The law protects only the prophet Mohammed and the Quran. This renders people of all other faiths second class citizens.

The blasphemy law was originally introduced during British rule, but has been misused a great deal since the fundamentalist dictatorship of Zia-ul-Haq in the 1980s, when it took its present form under pressure from extremists. There is now a mandatory life sentence for desecrating the Qur’an and a mandatory death sentence for “blaspheming” Muhammad. Unlike the Racial and Religious Hatred Act 2006 (UK), which prohibits people from stirring up hatred against religious groups or individuals on religious grounds, the Pakistani blasphemy law protects the Islamic scriptures and the person of Muhammad from criticism or insult. Pakistan’s population of 170 million are subject to the blasphemy law, with religious minority groups making up about 4% of that number.

Members of minority groups such as Christians and Ahmadis are often convicted of the offence of “blasphemy” on scant evidence, including mere hearsay to effect personal revenge or to settle unrelated disputes, such as property ownership. Although convictions for blasphemy are common, the death sentence has never been carried out. Nonetheless, vigilantes have often taken matters into their own hands and killed those who were accused of the offence.

The Pakistani Constitution states that:

“no person can be deprived of life or liberty, save in accordance with law” it goes on to state:
“that on arrest or detention in custody, person is to be told grounds for such action & has the right to consult and be defended by legal practitioner of his/her choice.” And adds:
“arrested person is to be produced before the Magistrate within 24 hours of arrest; any detention beyond this period without the Magistrate’s authority is illegal.”

Time after time, evidence surfaces of illegal imprisonments on all people and especially in cases placed upon Christians. Sentences are commonly above the stipulated 24 hrs quoted above and access to legal representation is frequently denied.

Moreover legal representatives have often been prevented access to their clients at court hearings due to threats and physical attack. Evident recently in the case of Shazia Bashir listed above in our case studies.

In Shazia’s case the victims family, friends and Christian Lawyers assigned to prosecute on Miss Bashir’s behalf, were prevented access to the courts by unruly mobs. This prevented effective prosecution and reciprocally justice.

Robert Danish was arrested on 11th September 2009 after it was said that he pushed a local Muslim girl returning from Quranic studies. The momentum from the shove was purported to have resulted in her Quran falling to the ground near a drain, where it was soaked and irreparably damaged. Mr Danish was later found dead in prison on the 15th September 2009 after a false blasphemy charge was placed on him on 11th September 2009.

His arrest occurred after he gave himself up to rescue his father who had been illegally arrested in his place after a violent attack in his home town of Sumbrial near Sialkot. People were beaten by sticks and forced from their homes which were looted. A postmortem stated he had committed suicide yet his body was covered in scars and welts. His family protested that he had been killed in prison to no avail.

Article 11 states:

“slavery, all forms of forced labour and trafficking of human beings are prohibited” and that:
“no child under 14 can work in a factory or a mine or any other hazardous employment.”

In the case of Shazia Bashir we hear that her parents tried to obtain her freedom and were prevented from taking their daughter from the house of the man that raped her and forced her to work in his home.

Basic freedoms are listed in articles 15 -19 of the constitution. Those most pertinent for the purposes of this discussion include;

“all citizens are equal before law and are entitled to equal protection of law”.

I refer you to the initial contact made with the Police in the case of Shazia Bashir. Police involvement was a consequence of a visit from the Minister of Minorities and his subsequent call for action. The Minority Minister Shabhaz Bhatti’s visit was triggered on behest of the President of Pakistan- only after details of the case surfaced on international social networking sites, creating wider media attention.

Amnesty International has made several statements with regards to the persecution of Pakistani Christians. Incidents of persecution have increased on Christian minorities significantly since the war on terror. Many Muslims view the war on terror as a jihad or holy war and believe that Christians are the perpetrators. Innocent victims in Pakistan are an easy target and an opportunity for many to vent their frustrations.

In addition to persecution the BPCA advises that a number of wider inequalities exist in Pakistan. A number of surveys have highlighted that only 7% of people form minority groups attain literacy. As a consequence of this and significant cultural prejudice 80% of Christians work as domestic labour or as sanitary workers. Low paid employment of this type and limited access to good careers for those that are educated, have led to Christian Communities living in poorer regions and subject to the whims of feudal landlords and persecution from the wealthy and powerful. No more evident then in the case of Shazia Bashir and Nurse Magdalene.

We have tried to describe the situation in Pakistan as best we can. There are numerous other incidents of persecution we could have added - all gathered within a short 2 year period. The fact remains that despite the lack of Western knowledge of the situation in Pakistan, persecution has significantly increased for Pakistani Christians and other minority faiths. Only in January the world was shocked when it was revealed that 2 Sikhs had been beheaded by the Taliban in the North West Frontier Provinces.

Aasia Bibi’s case featured on BBC’s International News, has revealed to a much wider audience the concerns that the Christian minorities in particular, have been subjected to in Pakistan. Yet Pakistani Christians and other minorities escaping persecution to the UK are still deported due to a purported lack of evidence.

A way forward.

Reading the above it might seem that peace in Pakistan is an impossibility. Such notions themselves are incorrect when you study how our society her in the UK evolved over a long period of time. It will need strong Governments, leaders and communities to make the change but in time all is feasible.

Some suggestions the BPCA have alreday suggested to various parties include:

A national committment to remove the disparity in education for students from minority groups. Research by CAFOD indicates that only 7% people of minority descent attain an adequate level of literacy. The first priority for the Government should be to introduce measures to level the balance. Issues pertaining to such improvement include:

• A need for better subsidised education for the extremely poor.
• Return of Christian Schools sequestered during the term of Nawaz Shariff (Hitherto they provided significant discount - supported via external funding)
• Removal of Islamic Studies in favour of broad based religious studies; this not only promotes harmony by teaching that which links faiths and removing myth, but also prevents intentional educational neglect from parents fearing proselytisation.
• Sponsoring development for higher level Christian/other faith educational courses. Currently only Islamic under and post-graduate courses exist.

With respect to learning more must also be done to create a higher level of literacy throughout the country. Only 40% of the Muslim majority have attained an adequate level of literacy if Government statistics are to be believed. The BPCA believes that this figure has probably been exaggerated. Nevertheless, it still highlights the need for a concerted approach to tackle overall literacy in the country. It is a commonly held belief amongst people of all faiths that the lack of education in Pakistan, has made the general population na├»ve to the precepts of their faith. This fuels a chronic lack of discernment between good and bad or truth and lies and creates a malleability to the radical preaching’s of extremist religious leaders. Compulsory community cohesion courses and inclusive religious education with better educational facilities and opportunity would fuel a more erudite, conscientious and harmonious society.

The BPCA have been calling for reform of the blasphemy law for the preceding two years. As advocates for change we have endorsed the following points as a framework for improved procedure in Pakistan:

Return of the Blasphemy Law of Pakistan to the pre-islamicised version introduced by the British in 1927, after a Lahore High Court judgment, the British Government introduced section 295-A (to the then Indian Penal Code, 1860) which provided for punishment for “deliberate and malicious acts intended to outrage religious feelings of any class by insulting its religion or religious beliefs.” It was thought that it would take care of acts, among other things, of insult to the person of the Holy Prophet that should be deemed to be covered under the umbrella of acts intended to outrage religious feelings. This act was universally applicable to all faiths providing protection to all and was subject to little abuse. In fact until 1986 when the Blasphemy law was islamicised only 10 cases were tried in court. I should emphasise here that our overall aim is to see the abolition of the act in its entirety due to its breach of international freedom and equality conventions.

We would also like to see appropriate sentencing under section 153a of the Pakistan Penal Code. Which provides punishment for acts (words, either spoken or written or by visible representations, or otherwise) that promoted feelings of enmity or hatred between different classes.

We are also calling for more scrutiny for Ulema Council’s (Muslim Scholarly boards) preventing the radical indoctrination of mass communities and public calls for persecution of minorities.

The BPCA seek the removal of faith labelling within passports, and Shanakti Cards (ID Cards) as we maintain that this allows for pre-screening for minority groups, preventing access to employment and educational opportunity. Moreover that act itself creates a sense of second class citizenship and flies in the face of international protocol.

To end my speech I will talk a little of the need of ideas to promote positive cultural reform. In recent times we have noticed an increased sense of animosity between Christians and Muslims in the UK and Pakistan. Community bridging projects are required to create a stronger sense of unity. A grassroots application is required that goes beyond the usual political and community meetings. Art has had an intrinsic relationship to cultural reform globally. A monument to the deceased Rashid Masih a caretaker who sacrificed his life grappling with a suicide bomber, to save the 2000 girls in the Islamabad School in which he worked as a caretaker – would provide food for thought and symbolise that people are valuable and can live in harmony for the betterment of each other. A monument to recently deceased Human Rights activist Punjab Governor Salmaan Taseer would serve great purpose.

Community cohesion events or memorial dates would add to a wider philosophy of integration and peace.

Small gesture makes big wave!






















As tension mounts in Pakistan in the wake of the killing of former Governor of Punjab Salman Taseer the British Pakistani Christian Association and the British Sikh Council collaborated in an event to bring peace to the universal Pakistani Community.

On Friday 14th January whilst garlands were strung around the neck of Mr Qadri the killer who assassinated Governor Taseer, as he was showered with rose petals. Pakistani Christians and Sikhs of Britain expressed their condolences for a nation who had lost a "great humanitarian" by handing memorial wreaths to the High Commissioner of Pakistan Wajid Shamsul Hasan.

A candlelight prayer vigil outside the Pakistan Embassy was followed by a visit to the High Commissioner who greeted the multi-faith delegation with dignity and enthusiasm. The High Commissioner spoke of the hurt that the loss of the Governor had caused to his party and to the nation of Pakistan. He also expressed great concern at the volatile situation in Pakistan created by the extremist groups in Pakistan that have an unholy alliance with the media there. The High Commissioner spoke of the continuing commitment from him and his Government to create a fairer society in Pakistan. He expressed a desire for working with Pakistan Christian minorities and Sikh minorities in the UK he hoped to create a better awareness in Pakistan of the things that unite all peoples. He expressed joy at seeing minorities coming together illustrated within the delegation and urged minority groups in the UK and Pakistan to work more cohesively to create a stronger voice for those persecuted in Pakistan. He expressed thanks for our visit stating it was a positive gesture and one of immeasurable size due it's focus on peace rather than retribution.

Wilson Chowdhry from the British Pakistani Christian Association said:

"In a spirit of unity people of Pakistani origin in the UK have been praying for succour to the bereaved family of Governor Taseeer and for a restoration of peace in Pakistan. This tragic event has not only affected people in Pakistan but the reverberations of his death have struck a chord across the globe. the BPCA felt this was not a time for petitions or protests, that serve only to further polarise differing faiths, but a time to share the pain of a nation being ripped apart by extremist groups vent on creating anarchy for their own ends. Christians and Sikhs across the globe are praying for succour for the family of late Governor Taseer and a restoration of peace in Pakistan and we are confident that eventually good will triumph over evil."

Upkar Rai from the British Sikh Council said:

"Pakistan and the world has lost a great Samaritan of humanity. His fight for equality of all minorities and the hypocrisy and abuse of Blasphemy law are unprecedented. He was a great supporter of the Sikh community. He will be missed. Our heartfelt commiserations are with the family and wish them well for the future and hope they are able to draw strength from the fact that Salman sacrificed his life for the greater good of all mankind. "

After the audience with the High Commissioner the BPCA and the BSC affixed one of the wreathes to the front of the embassy with a message of peace to Pakistani People of all faiths.

Friday, 14 January 2011

BBC Asian Network will be commenting on our wreath Submission on their 18:00 debate!

BBC Asian Network will be talking about our wreath submission on a larger debate on their 18:00 slot. Please do listen out for it as the debate is a much listened to prime time show.

Click the link close to 18:00 and listen to the show live:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/console/bbc_asian_network

Sunrise Radio will be covering our Wreath submission to the High Commissioner

Wilson will appear on Sunrise News every hour from 14:00 - 20:00 talking about the significance of Governor Taseer's sacrifice and our wreath submission. Please listen to the interview by clicking to their station online:

http://www.sunriseradio.com/player/audioplayer.asp?prename=Sarita Sabharwal

Thursday, 13 January 2011

Pakistani Christians commemorate the life of Governor Salmaan Taseer


The British Pakistani Christian Association has arranged to hand over a wreath of flowers to the Pakistani High Commissioner Wajid Shamsul Hasan, at 17:00 on Friday 14th January.

Our wreath will be a representation of the love our community has for the nation of Pakistan and for the late Governor of Punjab Salmaan Taseer.

In sounding out a voice for women and minorities two of the more persecuted groups in Pakistan Governor Taseer placed himself on the front-line of the Pakistan Freedom movement.

The loss of his life may seem as a triumph to extremists, however, we believe that Salmaan Taseer has become a strong emblem of the campaign towards a fairer Pakistan. As such we strongly believe that despite any initial dent in the impetus of the change in Pakistan, his sacrifice will create an even bigger surge for equality, justice and peace.

Governor Salmaan Taseer is a martyr for justice and Peace and we hope that the international Pakistani body, irrespective of faith joins us at the peaceful demonstration of our solidarity as brothers.
Words on the wreath will say:

“In memory of a great man, Salman Taseer, Governor of Punjab, who bravely gave his life defending the rights of Pakistan citizens. He will be remembered for all his good deeds and bravery when he spoke out against the continued miscarriage of justice resulting from the misuse of Blasphemy Laws in Pakistan.”
A second wreath will say:

"Pakistan has lost one of it's most concientious and progresive statesman, the world has lost a great humanitarian. In speaking for the voiceless minorities of Pakistan Governor Salman Taseer has shown a way forward for people of Pakistan. The courage and sacrifice shown by Governor Taseer is an example not just to his party, but also to the country- that change is costly but necessary. Some may choose to listen others may not, however, his lasting testament is one that lives on. Our thoughts are with the family and friends of Governor Taseer. Christians everywhere are praying for succour for them and a restoration of peace in Pakistan.


"Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy"
Matthew 5 v 7

We are also to be joined by Upkar Rai of the British Sikh Council - they will be delivering their own wreath in a spirit of solidarity. Theire wreath will say:

"Pakistan and the world has lost a great Samaritan of humanity. His fight for equality of all minorities and the hypocrisy and abuse of Blasphemy law are unprecedented. He was a great supporter of the Sikh community. He will be missed. Our heartfelt commiserations are with the family and wish them well for the future and hope they are able to draw strength from the fact that Salman sacrificed his life for the greater good of all mankind.

"From the One Light, the entire universe welled up. So who is good, and who is bad?"
Bhagat Kabeer Ji, Sri Guru Granth Sahib ji.

If you can make it, why not join us for a short low key candlelight vigil outside the Embassy as we hand over the wreath....

Wednesday, 12 January 2011

Taking our concerns to the House of Commons!


Solidarity with the Victims of All Genocides Forum for Stateless Nations

Alex Chowdhry and Wilson Chowdhry will be speaking to MP's on the topic of the persecution felt by Christians in Pakistan.

" Nations and Minorities in Danger"
4 p.m. on 18th January, (eve of Hrant Dink Day)
In Committee Room 2 of the House of Lords, Westminster, London


Speakers include:

Des Fernandes - author of "The Kurdish and Armenian Genocides"
Kasim Agpak - a Kurdish Representative
Carmel Budiardjo - West Papua representative (the founder of TAPOL, a UK-based NGO that works to promote human rights, peace and democracy in Indonesia. She was a political prisoner in Indonesia under the Suharto regime and an Amnesty International prisoner of conscience )
Alex and Wilson Chowdhry British Pakistani Christian Association

The meeting is sponsored by Baroness Finlay of Llandaff
Please pray for a successful outcome in which MP's attending agree to take up our cause in a Parliamentary campaign.

Tuesday, 11 January 2011

Spreading the Good News!

Ilford Church celebrating Christmas 2010.

As a group one of our main priorities has been to promote a better awareness of the existence of our Pakistani Christian Community here in the UK and their global concerns including the persecution in Pakistan.

Recently I provided details of an article in the Barking and Dagenham Post we had no knowledge of a local church there and so we promoted the story as one of the concept of Pakistani Christmas in the UK as opposed to celebrations in Pakistan.

For the Ilford Recorder we were able to liaise with Ilford Church and I include the article for your perusal:


https://chadwell-papers.googlegroups.com/web/ILF%202011-01-06%20MAIN%20ILR%20018%20COL.pdf?hl=en-GB&gsc=Qb_rNgsAAADBqpNcJKWRMawKah2z0WEq

We are aware that other Pakistani churches exist in Ilford and would like to promote your organisations, in a follow-up Easter article. If you are interested please make contact so that we can work with you in future. If we have no volunteers we will be promoting the Ilford Church again.
If wider Pakistani Churches around the UK would like help with media attention during Christmas and Easter periods, please get in touch and we will help you were we can.

Monday, 10 January 2011

A Christian Nation in the Indian subcontinent? Good or bad you decide

Carnival atmosphere as joyous Sudanese Christians vote for birth of new Christian state!

In Sudan a referendum is taking place that could lead to a North - south divide on the basis of faith. This could be the birth of a new Christian nation in a region that has suffered significant community angst, oppression and savagery.

Raymond Durrani a prominent Pakistani Christian in Canada has long been calling for a Christian state to be formed from Pakistan and has previously suggested the annexation of Baluchistan, could facilitate such a reality.

The BPCA is neither supporting or opposing any such plan and merely for debate cascade a comment received from him today:

Hi Wilson,

Pakistan only became reality because 4 Christian MPs voted for it including the Speaker of the House who was also a Christian and broke the tie by voting for Pakistan. Part of Pakistan is property of the Christian Nation of Pakistan. If the Muslim majority have problem with Christian nation of Pakistan they should give part of their share to them in order for them to have their independent country like they are doing in Sudan right now.

You should pick up on that theme over all your demands, suggestions and efforts which have been proven to be fruitless.

Sincerely,

Raymond W. Durrani & Associates
Friends of Christian Nation of Pakistan

Irrespective of what you feel about the formation of "Asaistan" (or whatever any founder would like to name this pseudo country), the fact remains that the secession of two Sudan into two states, could bring about an end to the terror faced by millions of people divided by faith and the associated fanaticism.

We would simply like to hear the personal views of our readership with respect to this matter. However, in the light of what is happening in Sudan it would make a very interesting campaign!

MINAB Condemns the suicide bombing on a Coptic Church in Egypt

Wreck from New Years day Alexandria bombing.

MINAB a UK based lead Muslim Organisation has condemned the suicide bombing of the Coptic Church in Alexandria. They have provided a press release describing their opposition to the extremist actions of the fanatical minority. As a lead advisory board to Islamic Groups and leaders their words carry great weight and it is heartening to publish them for you in verbatim:
The Mosques and Imams National Advisory Board (MINAB) condemns the suicide bombing that targeted a Coptic church in Alexandria on New Year's Day. Such attacks are affront to all human and religious values and aim to disrupt the harmony of our communities who have lived
together for hundreds of years.

The Chair of MINAB, Maulana Shahid Raza, OBE, has expressed his deep concern and condemned the attacks. "Any such attack or threat to a place of worship is abhorrent and is an attack on all of us" he said. "We stand united in offering solidarity against the targeting of
Christian communities and other minority communities in the Middle East which aims to destroy community relations and inspire hate and discord".

The MINAB calls upon Mosques in the UK and the Middle East to re-emphasis the Quranic message of protecting places of worship and challenge these extreme views and to pray for the innocent victims of this barbaric act through their sermons, and any other means.

We call upon all peace loving people to work together to root out such forms of extremism and to build resilience to challenge and disrupt all forms of extremism. Such extremists are evil murderers, who incite hatred and are destroying our cohesion and damaging the dignity of
religion and faith.

Friday, 7 January 2011

Discussion meeting on situation in Pakistan

We have received notification of a meeting to be held in Heston this evening to discuss the situation in Pakistan. Wilson will not be able to attend as he is attending a local Redbridge Meeting as a lead proponent in the challenge to prevent any hospital services reduction to his local hospital. Please support this endeavour if you can make it:


Dear Brothers and Sisters

The Bible is the sole guideline for our life and Jesus Christ is the one who keep us united

Acts 4: 32 “All the believers were agreed in heart and mind”.

The recent chaos in Pakistan regarding Asia Bibi and subsequent assassination of late Governor of Punjab Salman Taseer has opened new discussion amongst Christians in Pakistan and across the World. What is the guarantee of common man’s life in Pakistan? If Governor is not safe and protected in Pakistan - What about Asia Bibi and other Christians who are already victimised in Blasphemy?

In order to tribute late Governor of Punjab Salman Taseer, and to discuss other issues that are linked with Christians in Pakistan. Christians Social Link along with other Christian organisations are holding a meeting to discuss the above issues.

The detail of the programme is appended below:

Date: Friday, January 07, 2011
Time: 7:00pm Sharp
Venue: Heston united Reformed church, 309 vicarage Farm Road, Heston TW5 0DR
Nearest Tube Station: Hounslow West Station on Heathrow-bound Piccadilly Line
Buses: H32 and 111 for Heston Health Centre/Vicarage Farm Road Bus Stop
Note: Free on-street parking is available near the venue

You are cordially invited to come and bring your friends. This is your programme thus this is our collective responsibility to make it successful. Please do not hesitate to contact us if you need further information or any clarifications.

Thanking you

Your Servant

John Bosco

Thursday, 6 January 2011

Board of Deputies of British Jews voices concern at Christian persecution

We have recieved this message of support from Philip Rosenburg from the Board of Deputies of British Jews est 1760, reproduced in verbatim:

Board Horrified at Attacks on Christian Minorities

The Board of Deputies has expressed its horror at the terrible attack on a Coptic Christian church in Alexandria on New Year’s Day. Writing to the Coptic Church in the UK, the Board noted that the Coptic Church had been warning about this for some time, and that “the tragedy of complacency and inconceivable viciousness has resulted in this bloodshed”. As the Coptic Christmas approaches on 7 January, the Board sent Christmas greetings, and shared its prayers that the community’s celebrations “will allow the Coptic faithful and faith to overcome the destructive evil that has tarnished the beginning of 2011”.

Just days later, the Alexandria massacre was followed by the assassination of Salman Taseer, a Pakistani Governor who had spoken out for the country’s Christian minority. These murders come less than two months after the Board of Deputies expressed solidarity with Iraqi Christians following a suicide attack on a church in Baghdad. The Board shares the pain of all people of goodwill in the UK and around the World. We particularly welcome the clear denunciation of terror by significant Muslim religious and political leaders. We call on governments, religious movements and civil society to ensure adequate physical protection of their minority communities in the short-term, and to promote education and dialogue to end all forms of hatred.


Wednesday, 5 January 2011

Salman Taseer a martyr for Pakistan's Freedom cause!

Salman Taseer a man who fought for Justice - RIP

The face of a murderer Mr Qadri seems rather carefree for someone who has just murdered a politician?

Salman Taseer the former Governor of the Punjab province, Pakistan, was slain in a despicable assassination, that has created international attention towards the Pakistan freedom and equality movement.

A hero has been lost to a country that has a dire need for them.

Mr Taseer was known for his positive stance towards better equality and rights for women and for minority faith groups. Several times he spoke out against the Blasphemy Law of Pakistan most notably during the recent case of Aasia Bibi, for whom he also demanded a pardon.

Today at his funeral thousands attended as his black coffin was draped with a flag of Pakistan and carried by military helicopter to its resting place at Calvary Ground Graveyard.

Although Pakistan's Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani and Interior Minister Rehman Malik represented the government and the ruling Pakistan Peoples Party, their were notable absentees. Those missing including President Asif Ali Zardari the President and close friend of Mr Taseer also missing were political rivals Nawaz and Shabaz Shariff from opposing Party Muslim League.

His death has caused mixed feelings in Pakistan and the Ulema Councils and political leaders from opposing parties have asked for a boycott of the funeral. One particular story in the Dawn illustrated the vehement response from leading Ulema of Jamaat Ahle Sunnat Pakistan (JASP) - read more here:

http://www.thenews.com.pk/TodaysPrintDetail.aspx?ID=3126&Cat=13&dt=1%2F5%2F2011

The Daily Mail UK talked of how the very same group are one of the more moderate Muslim Ulemas that formerly spoke out against Taliban insurgency. What hope remains for Pakistan?

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1344298/Dont-mourn-slain-Punjab-governor-suffer-fate-say-500-moderate-Pakistani-scholars.html

President Asif Raza Gillani however has declared 3 days Public holiday to commemorate the life of Mr Taseer. Moreover reigning Pakistan Peoples Party have declared a 2 week mourning period during which no party work will be undertaken as a time of mourning.

Interior Minister Rehman Malik has been instructed to investigate the killing personally and to report back directly to Prime Minister Gillani.

Elements of the case are suspicious such as how one member of the elite team was able to shoot the Governor without being killed himself. He was part of a 6 man crack team that were commissioned to protect Mr Taseer. Yet when retaliation shots were fired 5 innocent bystanders were shot dead and the killer was apprehended without wound. From outward appearances it would seem that the killing was a planned assassination that involved a larger party then so far uncovered.

Whatever happens as a consequence of this incident it is true to say Pakistan has lost a lead proponent of the freedom and equality movement. This act of violence has dented the inroads previously made towards a fairer society. My fear now is that other moderate people and campaigners for justice will choose to stay silent fearing similar violent attack.

It is said that the fanatics are few in Pakistan and often it does come across a true statement. statements such as those from the Ulema of Jamaat Ahle Sunnat Pakistan, asking for a boycott of Mr Taseer's funeral create even more concern about the level of fanaticism and how much it permeates throughout Pakistani Society.

Today a radio programme on BBC Asia network exposed the diversity of opinion within those of an Islamic faith in the UK. Even here in the UK people who enjoy the freedoms we have are opposed to similar freedoms in Pakistan. The debate raised grave concerns about the future of nuclear- powered Pakistan, a nation with significant community polarisation, poverty, illiteracy and religious angst. Listen to the Nihal show on which I was invited to speak as a guest:

BBC radio hosted a debate on the death of Salman Taseer. Muslim comments were divided on who was a hero Governor Salman Taseer or murderer Mr Qadri. Wilson was invited as a guest on the show:
"All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing." (Edmund Burke)
Mahatma Ghandi once said:

"You must be the change you wish to see in this world"

Salman Taseer had the strength of conviction to do so and should be honoured by all campaigners for freedom in Pakistan. The BPCA calls upon people to pray for the family and friends of Mr Taseer, pray for succour and safety to return to their lives. Moreover, we ask for readers to pray for the situation in Pakistan and for a restoration of peace and for justice and equality to enter the local culture.


Shahbaz Bhatti Federal Minister for Minorities talks to Vatican Radio.

“I believe that this cowardly act of violence cannot create fear and cannot stop us from raising the voice for justice and raising the voice for the protection of minorities and innocent people of Pakistan.”

To listen to the complete interview please click on link below

http://www.oecumene.radiovaticana.org/en1/Articolo.asp?c=451825

Tuesday, 4 January 2011

Governor of Punjab Assassinated

The Governor of Punjab has been assassinated by one of his own guards for his stance opposing the Blasphemy law and his support for the freedom of Asia Bibi.

Read more here:

http://www.sify.com/news/punjab-governor-critic-of-islamist-militancy-killed-by-guard-news-international-lbeuakidefb.html

http://www.reuters.com/article/idUSTRE70320L20110104

View the BBC news report here:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-south-asia-12111831

We ask Christians across the globe to pary for succour for the family of this man who was willing to stand up and be counted in the face of significant adversity. He chose a dangerous path when he supported freedom for Aasia Bibi and deserves recognition. He is a true Pakistani hero and a Martyr for the justice and equality movement in Pakistan.