08/07/2009, 00.00
PAKISTAN
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Pakistan, a Catholic activist: petition for the abolition of blasphemy law

by Fareed Khan
Peter Jacob, executive secretary for Justice and Peace, stresses that the government is "more sensitive" than before to violence against minorities. He adds, however, that change is only possible through a "mass movement". Human Rights Commission warns: attacks against Christians in Gojra "premeditated" and executed with the complicity of the police.

Lahore (AsiaNews) - The government is more "sensitive" than in the past to the problems caused by the blasphemy law, but change will only be possible if "there is a mass movement" behind us. That is why we decided to launch "a petition campaign throughout the country,” says Peter Jacob, executive secretary of the National Commission for Justice and Peace (NCJP) of the Catholic Church in Pakistan in an interview with AsiaNews.

Pakistan’s Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilan and Mian Shahbaz Sharif, Chief Minister of Punjab, yesterday visited the Christian families of Gojra, affected by the violence of Islamic extremists. The premier met with Christian leaders and ensured "justice and redress." In this regard the Government is planning the allocation of 100 million rupees (just over 900mila euro).

A private Pakistani television reported that Gilan announced a “revision of the law” while not directly mentioning the blasphemy norm. He announced a draft reform of laws deemed "harmful to religious harmony", to understand how they "can be improved”.  

"The government is more sensitive than in the past - comments Peter Jacob - but it is the responsibility of civil society to promote the issue. People are in solidarity with victims of violence and is a solidarity that can help bring about change”. He explains that the key point is "pressure from civil society on the government", because only a "mass movement" can really bear fruit.

The Catholic activist says that "the goal is to reach out to people and make them aware of the issue” so that there may really be a profound rethinking of the law and better protection of minority rights. Jacob is cautiously optimistic: "we have no available official statistics" and “movements that are opposed to change are strong”, but the support of the public "is greater and so we can work" to see the law is changed.

Regarding the anti-violence in Gojra, the Pakistan Commission for Human Rights (HRCP) warns that it was not "a spontaneous reaction to a case of blasphemy," but was "planned well in advance."

On July 31 last in the city mosques religious leaders urged Muslims to "make minced meat of the Christians." Local sources, reached by HRCP activists describe how they lodged complaints with the police who confirmed the risk of attack. The next day a crowd of at least 1000 people met in the city and marched towards the homes of Christians, a contingent of police on patrol nearby, did not stop the attackers - among them several masked men – thus encouraging the massacre.
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