12/01/2015, 00.00
PAKISTAN
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Pakistan, increasing sectarian violence, with Christian minorities and women main targets

by Shafique Khokhar
The Asian Human Rights Commission reports on most recent cases of abuse. Among these forced conversions, kidnappings and rapes. The attacks on goods and property of minorities pass with impunity. Religious freedom increasingly threatened. The government has a responsibility to protect all citizens

Lahore (AsiaNews) - Christians and other religious minorities in Pakistan are increasingly the victims of violence, attacks, abuses and violations to freedom of worship, denounces the Asian Human Rights Commission in a recently published report in which it examines the cases occurred in recent months.

Thousands of Christians, 13% of the total population, are annually objects of targeted attacks, often committed in the name of the blasphemy laws. In particular, women are the first victims of this violence with ever increasing cases of abductions and forced conversions to Islam (at least a thousand a year, according to data of 2013 the NGO Aurat Foundation).

And religious freedom-while being recognized on paper - is increasingly a right just a facade.

Christians and Hindus are the intended victims of Islamic extremist groups and individuals who, taking advantage of their position, commit abuses and violations. Punjab is among the provinces of Pakistan, where most cases of violence occur. However, the Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif and the heads of the local police order superficial investigations which in most cases leave victims without justice.

The Asian Human Rights Commission recently received reports of three incidents of forced conversion against three Christian minors. The first is 13 year old Sana John, kidnapped on November 9 and forced to embrace Islam by young Muslim known as Rambo. Despite complaints from the family against the boy and some of his relatives, police and judiciary so far have taken no action to  bring about justice.

A similar is that of the young Christian Shukat Agnes, daughter of Shukat Masih, a native of Lahore and kidnapped Nov. 20 by Uzma, her Muslim employer and owner of the boutique where she was employed. In spite of the complaint filed by the parents, which lists the name of the kidnapper, police officers have opened a case against an "unknown" assailant.

The incident happened in the district of Kasur, among the most at risk in Pakistan for attacks and sectarian violence, at the same time a Christian couple was burned alive, for an alleged affair with blasphemy. Yet in this case the investigators ignored evidence and the perpetrators have gone unpunished.

The third incident dates back to September 22, when the 22 year old Safia Bibi was held against her will and repeatedly raped by a neighbor. Under pressure from NGOs and activists, in this case the Raja Jang Police Station arrested Mr. Umar who now will have to face trial.

Activists and experts agree that the Pakistani Christian community is the subject of systematic attacks and denied justice, and are not able to freely practice their religion. The latest case dates to November 25, when a group of extremists set fire to Christian Gwahi TV. Investigators have attempted to close the case as a fire triggered by a short circuit, in spite of evidence that lead in the direction of an arson attack motivated by extremist sentiment. The attackers also stole much of the material held in the studios of television.

Since 1963, when Islam became the state religion, the authorities have not been able to guarantee protection for minorities and in recent years the situation has worsened with a growing sense of insecurity and lack of freedom.

The infamous blasphemy laws are a sword of Damocles hanging over the head of minorities and have increasingly undermined the foundations of religious harmony and pluralism. In many cases the accusers, abuse these laws to settle personal disputes, becoming prosecutors, judges and executioners, in cases of extrajudicial killings.

Hence the appeal of activists and experts of the Human Rights Commission to the government to adopt policies for the protection of religious minorities and the most vulnerable groups in the process of nation building. Because no nation in the world can survive putting aside the minorities and it is up to the authorities and institutions to ensure freedom of worship and security regardless of faith, skin color or social status.

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