Peter Jacob gets award as a defender of human and religious rights in Pakistan
by Shafique Khokhar

The US State Department gave prestigious award for Jacob’s commitment to religious freedoms and human rights in Pakistan. For Judge Nasira Iqbal, this is “a remarkable achievement for all Pakistanis, as human rights defenders like Peter Jacob work hard to promote social cohesion and equality of rights for all.”

Lahore (AsiaNews) – The Centre for Social Justice (CSJ) organised an event to celebrate Peter Jacob's contribution to the struggle for human rights and religious freedom in Pakistan, after he received the prestigious International Religious Freedom Award from the US Department of State on the 25th anniversary of the International Religious Freedom Act.

The event was held in Lahore with several participants speaking about the many aspects of Peter Jacob's work promoting and protecting religious freedoms and human rights in Pakistan.

Among were journalist and educator Wajahat Masood; Judge Nasira Iqbal; Clara Strandhoj, head of the Lahore Office of the British High Commission; Karl Rogers, public diplomacy officer at the US consulate in Lahore; Arif Saeed, honorary consul of Germany; as well as human rights lawyers Tanveer Jahan, Saroop Ijaz, Allama Saddiq Azhar, Samson Salamat, and Rana Zulqurnain.

Peter Jacob is executive director of the CSJ, and has spent more than 35 years fighting for the rights of Pakistan's marginalised religious minorities, to ensure that their rights are respected, especially since they are constitutionally guaranteed.

The meeting began with a Christian girl singing a psalm, followed by a Kafi[*] by Sufi poet Shah Hussain, to promote the values of peace and respect.

“Religion has been used as a divider among citizens,” but also “as a weapon to score political points against opponents,” Jacob said in his address. “Researchers need to study the intersection of the right to religious freedom with other rights related to freedom of association, expression and assembly in Pakistan."

Speaking with humility and gratitude, he went on to say: “I am happy to receive the religious freedom award on behalf of hundreds of religious, social, and human rights defenders. May our collective efforts lead to meaningful and positive changes in our beloved country.”

The well-known journalist and educator Wajahat Masood also spoke. “We, as citizens, refuse to accept the concept of majority and minority based on religion,” he said.

“The constitution is a social contract between the state and its citizens,” he added, “and we believe in a country where equality of status, dignity, rights, and opportunities for all citizens without any discrimination is ensured by the constitution.”

US Consulate officer Karl Roger paid tribute to Peter Jacob for his commitment over the years to human rights in general and to religious freedom in particular.

“Efforts need to be made to ensure that the religious freedom of any individual or community is not undermined,” he said. This is needed “to prevent acts of discrimination, intolerance, and violence.”

Judge Nasira Iqbal also expressed gratitude for Jacob's commitment and congratulated him on his well-deserved recognition, calling it “a remarkable achievement for all Pakistanis, as human rights defenders like Peter Jacob work hard to promote social cohesion and equality of rights for all.”

[*] Kafi is a traditional form of Sufi music originally from South Asia’s Punjab and Sindh regions.