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Protection order is serious

KARACHI (UCAN): It has been two years since the Supreme Court in Pakistan ordered the state to protect the rights of ethnic and religious minorities, but the response from the government has been lacklustre and Church leaders have expressed concern.

The court ruling on 19 June 2014 ordered the federal government to create a national council for the rights of minorities and provincial governments to set up task forces for religious tolerance, protect places of worship and crack down on hate speech.

Minority leaders and civil society in general praised the chief justice, Tassaduq Hussain Jillani, for passing the judgment in the wake of a deadly bombing at Peshawar Church in 2013 that killed 85 people.

“Such rulings are not very common in our country. It was not easy to combine the philosophy of human rights, Islamic justice and minority rights. Finally, we got justice, but non-compliance frustrated us. The Church is affected when its people are affected,” Bishop Alexander John Malik, from Lahore, commented at the launch of a study, When Compliance Fails Justice, on November 30.

The study was carried out by the Centre for Social Justice and assesses each one of the 10 follow-up hearings held at the Supreme Court up to September 2016.

At the launch, the speakers, mostly from the legal profession, were critical of the lethargy on the part of the government and unsatisfactory implementation of the court order.

The research found that the federal government had totally failed to report back on the court order, the provincial Punjab government reported a poor 32 per cent compliance, while Balochistan province at least made some tangible strides and crossed the 50 per cent mark in compliance.

None of the five governments set up any implementation bodies. None of the five cabinets or inter-ministry bodies carried out any reviews or deliberated on how to implement the reforms.

The 2015 twin suicide attack on churches in Youhanabad, the largest Christian ghetto in Lahore, took place five days after the Punjab government submitted its security analysis.

“We desperately need a (national) council to monitor our interests. The security of churches is still a big concern; it is common to see policemen dozing on duty or playing mobile phone games during Sunday services,” Bishop Malik said at the launch.

Churches around the country now submit their service schedules to district police, who then send four to five officers to guard the congregations. If the police don’t show up, some parishes are forced to let their youth groups keep guard.

“Nobody questioned the officials about the flawed security for the churches in Youhanabad. The failure of all four provincial governments to establish a task force to secure places of worship led to attacks on minority communities, because of their weakness and lethargy,” Peter Jacob, the director of the Centre for Social Justice, said.

“I hope the implementation of the 2014 ruling can strengthen the whole Church, which has suffered both physically and economically in recent decades. This is the only direction for a peaceful Pakistan,” Jacob added.

Religious minorities in Pakistan have long been complaining of being second-class citizens and have demanded equal rights and better opportunities.

Their biggest concern is the abuse of the blasphemy law, which is seldom discussed in the courts or by the government.

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