On 11 August 1947, three days before Pakistan became independent after centuries of British colonial rule, Muhammad Ali Jinnah, the founding father of the nation, delivered an historic speech to the newly-formed constituent assembly in which he pledged “freedom and equality” for all faiths in the new country.
Christians from various backgrounds have chosen that date for its symbolic value. Likewise, Human Rights Focus Pakistan (HRFP) organised the protest march on this day, ending in a press conference at the Lahore Press Club.
HRFP president Naveed Walter said that the ‘Black Day’ of protest was called to highlight the “increasing incidents of injustice and discrimination” against Pakistani Christians.
Above all, the rally was prompted by the need to change the blasphemy law, which punishes proselytising but is used by Muslim extremist groups against Christians, aided and abetted by eager police officers ready to arrest on simple verbal accusations.
In addition, Naveed called for changes to Pakistan’s electoral system to enable the country’s religious minorities to select directly their representatives in the federal parliament and regional assemblies. Under current rules, a number of seats are reserved for them at both level of government, but they go to people who are handpicked by political parties and thus do not depend on the ballots of minority voters.
This year, Pakistan again observed ‘Minority Day’ on 11 August. However, for Nazir S. Bhatti, a leader of the Pakistan Christian Congress, it makes little sense to celebrate ‘Minority Day’ as long as Christians are persecuted, arrested and subjected to violence for their faith. Instead, he chose to observe a ‘Black Day’ in memory of the victims of anti-minority persecution.