Archbishop of Islamabad calls for prayers on 29 April for victims of religious intolerance
by Shafique Khokhar

Mgr Joseph Arshad’s proposal is meant to promote peace and harmony in the country. The National Justice and Peace Commission lists the most recent acts of anti-Christian violence. The country’s National Action Plan against terrorism must be changed.

Lahore (AsiaNews) – Mgr Joseph Arshad, archbishop of Islamabad-Rawalpindi and president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Pakistan, is behind the initiative to dedicate a day to prayer for the victims of religious intolerance and for peace and harmony in Pakistan.

In a note issued by the National Commission for Justice and Peace (NCJP), which he chairs, the prelate calls on all Christians to gather in prayer next Sunday, 29 April. The reason for this event, says the note, "is the alarming increase in violent incidents of intolerance and extremism in our country".

In the note itself, the NCJP lists the most recent cases. The latter include the suicide attack against the Bethel Memorial Methodist Church in Quetta; the inhumane treatment of Patras and Sajid Masih, two cousins accused of blasphemy in Lahore; the death of Suneel Masih in Lahore, beaten to death in a public hospital by doctors and nurses because he tried to defend his pregnant sister who was asking to see a gynecologist; anti-Christian attacks in Quetta over a two-week period; and the death of Asma Yaqoob, a Christian woman from Sialkot (Lahore) who was disfigured with acid by a Muslim suitor and died from her injuries on 22 April.

For his part, Khalil Tahir Sindhu, Punjab Minister for Human Rights and Minorities, on Tuesday visited the family of the 25-year-old beautician.

The Catholic politician announced a compensation offer of 500,000 rupees (US$ 4,300). "There is no more time to wait. The case will be brought before the Anti-Terrorism Court. My Ministry will pay for all the legal costs," Sindhu told AsiaNews.

Meanwhile, Rizwan Gujjar, the Muslim man the victim had rejected, is locked up behind bars.

In its statement, the NCJP also said that it was "very concerned about this new wave of attacks against minorities, attacked only because of their faith. This is not acceptable and the state must seriously change the National Action Plan to address the issue of extremism and terrorism."

NCJP executive director Cecil Shane Chaudhry noted that the federal government recently issued Paigham-i-Pakistan, a fatwa against terrorism signed by 1,800 Muslim clerics. With it, political party leaders and imams call for unity and an unanimous narrative to counter terrorism.

Now, "The government must set up an independent national minority rights commission to resolve the issue of minorities,” said Fr Emmanuel Yousaf (Mani), NCJP national director.

 (Kamran Chaudhry contributed to this article)

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