10/01/2009, 00.00
VATICAN - PAKISTAN
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Zardari promises Pope to overcome discrimination caused by religion

The "need" to promote respect for the rights of all citizens in talks between the President and Benedict XVI. In Islamabad, meanwhile, it is announced that Christian organizations in the country have called for a national conference on October 24 to demand the abolition of the blasphemy law.

Vatican City (AsiaNews) – The ‘need’ to overcome all forms of discrimination based on religion emerged from meetings today between the President of Pakistan, Asif Ali Zardari, and Pope Benedict XVI in Castel Gandolfo and Secretary of State cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, who was accompanied by the Secretary for Relations with States, Msgr. Dominique Mamberti. Echoing this statement is  news  from Islamabad that the Pakistan Christian organizations have called for a national conference on October 24 to demand the abolition of the blasphemy law.

A statement released by the Vatican Press Office states that " The cordial discussions provided an opportunity to examine the current situation in Pakistan, with particular reference to the fight against terrorism and the commitment to create a society more tolerant and harmonious in all its aspects. Talk then turned to the positive role played by the Catholic Church - continues the statement - in the social life of the country through her educational, healthcare and aid activities. Evoking recent episodes of violence against Christian communities in some localities, and the elements that have favoured such serious incidents, emphasis was given to the need to overcome all forms of discrimination based on religious affiliation, with the aim of promoting respect for the rights of all citizens".

The same argument was also addressed by Zardari in his talks with Italian politicians, in which the Pakistani president said the government of his country will take steps against the abuse of the blasphemy law. Moreover, on 18 September, during a state visit to London, Zardari had promised greater government vigilance, but human rights organizations in Pakistan say the president's words remain an unrealistic goal that ignores the reality of the situation.

The law, created to defend against offenses against Islam and the Prophet, has become an instrument of discrimination and predatory violence. The event promoted by the CCP Christian is called All Parties Conference and was created to coordinate the efforts of all Christian groups who are calling for the abolition of Article 295, paragraph b and c of the Penal Code. On 24 October, to facilitate the participation of as many people as possible, the initiative will be held simultaneously in Karachi, Lahore and Islamabad.

The National Commission for Justice and Peace of the Catholic Church (NCJP) states that "the country's Christian community continues to live in fear and insecurity" and cites the most recent cases of abuse of the law arguing that the authorities undertake investigations without decision or results.

In the district of Sialkot and the village of Gojra, Punjab, investigations and the trials are blocked. The NCJP says that over the last five days no progress has been made to see justice done for the Christians killed and assaulted there. Local Pakistani sources say that in Gojra, a village in which eight Christians were burned to death in early August, the provincial administration and police are covering up the affair so as not to risk public disorder. The Commission adds that "some of those detained over the violence have been released on bail by the Anti-Terrorism Court”.

There is a similar situation in the district of Sialkot, home to Fanish Robert, the 20 year old Christian who was killed in prison September 14 two days after his arrest for blasphemy. The family of the young man had to leave their home in Jethikey for security reasons and only returned on 24 September. Now they are asking the authorities to transfer the remains of their son to his village of origin. The funeral and burial of Fanish were to have taken place in Sialkot to avoid anti-Christian episodes, but were marred by police intervention to "prevent further unrest”.

 (with the collaboration of Fareed Khan)

 

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