02/02/2006, 00.00
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Pakistan, Catholic press: "Ever decreasing freedom"

by Qaiser Felix

Archbishop of Lahore: "The media must commit to  their role, otherwise we will loose the battle in education". Reports on religious freedom, press freedom and minority rights.

Lahore (AsiaNews) – Freedom of religion and information, minority rights and women's rights, as well as the commitment of the Catholic press in South East Asian countries were the arguments under discussion during a week of meetings and seminars organised by the International Catholic Union of the Press (UCIP). Taking part in the Lahore session in January were; 5 delegates from Sri Lanka, 3 from Nepal and 3 from Bangladesh as well as Pakistani representatives: a number of Indian journalists were also expected to attend but were not given necessary visas and therefore were forced to back out.

The one week long training workshop helped the participants understanding and analyzing important issues in Pakistan.  The expert speakers talked in detail about the catholic journalism, Political situation, religious minorities, plight of women, discriminatory laws, Sangla Hill tragedy, education system, media and democracy in Pakistan. Most of the participants observed less religious freedom and limited role of media in Pakistan. Archbishop Lawrence John Saldanha of Lahore, who is also Chairman Bishops' commission for communication in Pakistan, inaugurated the refresher programme and talked about the Catholic journalism in Pakistan. In Pakistan Catholics are 1.2 million out of 2.2 percent Christian population, Archbishop further told, and 75 percent Catholics are illiterate. According to Archbishop the 25 percent educated Catholics are also not much interested in education as a result it is very difficult to start news papers or magazines because we don't have many writers as well as readers.

"We are losing the battle in education", Archbishop said, "population is growing but level of education is going down". Shafique Jalandhry, head of mass communication department of Punjab University, said media in Pakistan is not playing a role as it should be. Law and order situation in the country is bad, he further said, corrupt lawyers have been made judges and those judges have been purchased for favourable verdicts.

He stressed corrupt administration is a hindrance in prosperity and development of common people in Pakistan.

Khalil Tahir, a Christian lawyer, said the poor women in Pakistan are suffering from so many discriminations and are living a miserable life. In the male dominated society of Pakistan about 90 percent women faced discrimination and violence of feudal lords and tribal chiefs. As a lawyer, Khalil Tahir said, I had bitter experience of several women cases where the law is vague and unclear and unable to dispense justice to the women victims.

Fr Bonnie Mendes, director Human Development Centre, explaining the history of discriminatory legislation in Pakistan said we have very unfortunate laws like Blasphemy laws, Hudood Ordinance and Qisas and Diyat (compensation laws) in Pakistan. Fr Bonnie urged for just legislation and repeal of discriminatory laws, we are in need of courage from abroad countries and support of International media. In Pakistan common people don't have freedom of expression or freedom of knowledge as well as they don't have right to know, Dr Mehdi Hasan, a scholar and media professor, said, and the rulers control everything according to their own will.  Religion and politics are two different things, Dr Hasan said, and state has no right to intervene in the religion of an individual. Instead state should provide equal opportunities to all citizens of Pakistan regardless of religion even on high positions in government.

Joseph Chittilappilly, secretary general of International Catholic Union of the Press (UCIP) also arrived in Lahore for this Refresher Programme from Switzerland. He told AsiaNews in an interview that Catholics in Pakistan are well known for their great services in the fields of health and education and there is a dire need to show same type of leadership in other walks of life and Catholic journalists can play a vital role for the same purpose although he admitted that Catholic media in Pakistan is very small. He urged local organizers to keep continue organizing this type of refresher programmes for a better and more active Catholic media in Pakistan.

The participants also visited Workshop Audio Visual Education (WAVE – a Catholic music ministry), Second Pakistan Social Forum, Ahmadia Community's main centre in Lahore, Cathedral Church and Archbishop's House where they had a dinner with Archbishop Lawrence Saldanha. During the Second Pakistan Social Forum the delegates got a chance to have first hand information about many current and important issues in Pakistan like Kashmir issue, disputed water reservoir issue and military operations in the province of Balochistan.

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