Religious minority rights groups slam police violence against protesters in Islamabad
by Shafique Khokhar

Participants in a conference on minority rights on Thursday urged the government to respect its commitments to establish a national commission to protect the rights of Christians, Hindus and members of other religious minorities. Everything done so far has proven ineffective. Voice for Justice Chairman Joseph Jansen is troubled that “peaceful demonstrators demanding an end to [. . .] atrocities find themselves subject to arrest and mistreatment”.

Lahore (AsiaNews) – Pakistani organisations defending the rights of Christians, Hindus and other minority religions have condemned the violent police crackdown in Islamabad against protesters from the Minorities Alliance Pakistan (MAP) during the National Minority Day observance last Thursday, 10 August. On that same day, a conference was held to mark the observance.

According to Joseph Jansen, who chairs Voice for Justice, the unwarranted violence against peaceful protesters “stands as a grave violation of democratic rights and is an affront to the principles of justice".

“On this significant occasion, dedicated to shedding light on the plight of religious minorities in Pakistan, it is disheartening to witness the very custodians of the law resorting to aggression against those championing the cause of equality and justice. We call upon the authorities to immediately release the detained peaceful protesters and ensure their safety and well-being,” Jansen said.

“It is deeply troubling that while individuals responsible for heinous acts like abduction, rape, and violence against minors continue to evade accountability, peaceful demonstrators demanding an end to such atrocities find themselves subject to arrest and mistreatment,” he added.

On Thursday, participants to the meeting organised by the Centre for Social Justice (CSJ) urged political parties to keep their commitments to defending minority rights.

Although Pakistanis are overwhelming Muslim, the notion of protection and equality for Christians and Hindus was reiterated on several occasions in the country’s history, CSJ executive director Peter Jacob noted, such as Quaid-e-Azam Ali Jinnah’s 14 points (1929), the Lahore Resolution (1940), Jinnah’s address to the National Assembly on 11 August 1947, and the Liaquat-Nehru Pact (1950).

Regrettably, Jacob added, “the National Assembly has passed a National Commission for Minorites Bill, 2023 without addressing its gaps”; now , “the onus is on the Senate to introduce amendments in the Bill to make the prospective minority rights body truly functional, and effective, independent, [and] autonomous”.

In this regard, the Joint Action Committee for the Rights of Peoples (JAC) explained that the bill is not in line with either the UN Paris Principles or the directives of the Supreme Court of 19 June 2014. For this reason, the JAC urges the government to set up the permanent commission it had promised.

In 2014, the Supreme Court ordered the government to create a minority rights institution with a mandate “to monitor the practical realization of the rights and safeguards provided to the minorities under the Constitution and law, and frame policy recommendations for safeguarding and protecting minorities’ rights”.

Instead, the “Federal Ministry for Religious Affairs, since 1990, formed ad hoc commissions which failed to make any progress towards policy reforms and redressing complaints related to minorities’ rights because they lacked a sound legal basis, broad mandate and competence, independence and autonomy, adequate powers and resources. We wish that the government had learnt from the past experiments and the issues faced by the previous minorities commissions.”