CATHOLIC NEWS OF THE WEEK . Saturday, 17 August 2019

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Commission for minorities launched in Pakistan

LAHORE (UCAN): The Pakistan Catholic bishops’ National Commission for Justice, together with the Peace and Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, gathered with human rights and religious organisations from across the country in Lahore to launch the Peoples’ Commission for Minorities’ Rights (PCMR).
 
The commission, which also includes representatives from Sikh, Hindu and Muslim communities, aims to press for the protection of religious minorities in the country.
 
“The new commission will strive to persuade and facilitate the federal and provincial governments to make progress on the constitutional guarantees of religious freedom, rights and interests of minorities, and international obligations regarding protection of minorities,” Peter Jacob, the director of the Centre for Social Justice, said at a press conference on November 29.
 
“We urge the federal government to remove existing barriers to enjoyment of rights in equality and totality,” he said.
 
The country’s Supreme Court—in a suo motu (on its own motion) case regarding a deadly Peshawar church blast in 2013—asked the federal government to constitute a national council for minority rights. However, only one province, Sindh, has formed such a council.
 
Commission member, Father Bonnie Mendes, said that religious minorities in Pakistan face legislative, administrative as well as social hurdles.
 
“The discrimination is widespread. Blasphemy (law) victims like Asia Bibi are forced to live in hiding despite being declared innocent by the top court,” he said, referring to the woman whose blasphemy conviction was overturned on October 30 (Sunday Examiner, November 11).
 
In the last week of November, Pakistan began cracking down on hardline Islamists as Khadim Hussain Rizvi, firebrand cleric and leader of the extreme Tehreek-Labaik Pakistan group, was brought up on charges of sedition and terrorism for instigating mass—and sometimes violent—protests over her release.
 
The PCMR was launched two days after the papal charity, Aid to the Church in Need, released its Religious Freedom in the World 2018 report which ranked Pakistan among the countries with significant violations of religious freedom.
 
The report said that the situation in Pakistan had worsened and expressed concern over blasphemy complaints. It said that more than 1,000 people on death row are blasphemy cases.

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