04/01/2008, 00.00
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Enough discrimination we want a modern Pakistan, says Christian lawmaker

by Qaiser Felix
Shahbaz Bhatti, a Christian who chairs the All Pakistan Minorities Alliance, was just elected to Pakistan’s National Assembly. In his maiden speech to the house he makes a plea for equal rights for the country’s non Muslim communities.

Islamabad (AsiaNews) – Pakistan’s minorities “want to see Pakistan [become] a modern and democratic state according to the vision of the country’s founding father, Mr. Jinnah. [. . .] We want a Pakistan in which there would be no discrimination on the basis of cast, creed and religion and every citizen would be treated equally,” said newly elected Christian lawmaker Shahbaz Bhatti.

Delivering his maiden speech on 29 March to Pakistan’s lower house, the National Assembly, Mr Bhatti said that in Pakistan religious minorities are suffering because of discriminatory laws, which violate all democratic norms and international standards of human rights. That is why these laws should be abolished. He has called for minorities to be better represented in both the Senate (where there are no reserved seats for non-Muslims) and in provincial assemblies.

When speaking about discrimination he was explicitly referring to the notorious blasphemy law, which punishes anyone who offends Muhammad or Islam’s sacred texts with life in prison or the death penalty, to the Hudud Ordinances adopted in 1979 under the rule of the military junta led by General Zia-ul-Haq, which include four classes of offences ranging from property violations, qazaf (false charge of adultery), adultery and a ban on certain activities like drinking or gambling (applied also to non-Muslims), and to general rule that in courts judges and attorneys must all be Muslim, even in cases involving non-Muslims.

Mr Bhatti added that minorities made sacrifices for the creation of Pakistan, contributed to its development and nation-building process so that “we want equal rights and opportunities in this country”. For this “a quota should be fixed for religious minorities to make possible their representation in every field of life”, he demanded.

Before concluding his address, the lawmaker, who is also chairman of the All Pakistan Minorities Alliance, paid tribute to Benazir Bhutto, the popular leader assassinated in late December, proposing that a statue in her honour be erected in front of the National Assembly.

“I have high hopes in the new government,” he said. “I believe that soon we shall be able to have real influence in Pakistani society. As members of persecuted minorities we must do all in our power to make ourselves heard and to claim our rights; otherwise, we shall betray the mandate our brothers gave us.”

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