Pakistan: Christians discriminated before the law

Pakistan’s human rights record might be contentious on several levels but in March last year, at its Universal Periodic Review with the Human Rights Council, Pakistan was lauded for its “commitment” to defending human rights. But its record is now being reviewed by the International Council of Jurists. A range of cases came under review.

Five thematic areas included: women’s rights; freedom of religion; rights of the child; enforced and involuntary disappearances; freedom of expression and human rights defenders.

Advocate Hammad Saeed, speaking on violence against religious minorities, pointed out several commitments and recommendations Pakistan had accepted in this regard, but failed to implement. He said in most cases of elopement and forced conversion, the concerns of minorities were completely disregarded at police stations. “Once a person [from a minority group] is forced into marriage, two certificates are produced: a marriage certificate and a certificate of conversion; followed by a statement before the magistrate, sometimes recorded under duress,” he said. There is no way out,” he said. He said instead of recording a statement before a magistrate in a court – a hostile environment for a victim – the statement could be recorded before social workers, women police officers or a member of the community considered compassionate. Another problem is the societal celebration that goes with converting a non-Muslim to Islam. “This needs to change,” he said.

Saeed spoke of a case in which a woman had spent 10 years in a forced marriage. She was presented before a magistrate and a high court. The high court judge took her to a separate room for counselling. He gave her two hours to make a decision. There she broke down and told the judge that her husband had told her that he would kill her family if she revealed that she was in a forced marriage.

“Rimsha Masih’s case is unique because she was a child and suffered from mental illness. Even the most right-wing elements would pause before accusing such a person of blasphemy,” he said. “But in the case of the British-Pakistani Muhammad Asghar, 70, who was medically proven schizophrenic and paranoid, the state was not that forthcoming even when he was shot and wounded in Adiala Prison, Rawalpindi,” he said. “Policemen guarding cells where blasphemy convicts are held are not allowed to bear arms. While the investigation committee traced the source of the violence to Mumtaz Qadri, it failed to identify the process through which violence manifests itself within the prison itself,” he said.

Pray for changes to the legal situation that challenges Christians and their position in Pakistani society.

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