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Pakistani Leader links interfaith harmony to equal rights for everyone

Legal Aid Cells to be set up across the country, says Shahbaz Bhatti

By Sheraz Khurram Khan

8/21/07 Pakistan (ANS) — The All Pakistan Minorities Alliance Chief Shahbaz Bhatti has said that the culture of interfaith harmony cannot emerge in the country unless every Pakistani gets equal rights.

“Interfaith harmony will not be realized if equality, social justice and religious freedom, is not granted to religious minorities. We want complete and equal religious freedom”, APMA Chief Shahbaz Bhatti told ASSIST on Tuesday.

He said the alliance will employ all peaceful and democratic means including advocacy and lobbying in its bid to wrest equal rights for Pakistani religious minorities. He called for coverage of minorities’ programs on Pakistani television and radio.

Mr. Shahbaz said the APMA was going to set up Legal Aid Cells at district level across Pakistan to help minorities communities get justice.

He said the alliance is reorganizing its Lawyers’ Wing and the alliance’s lawyers from Punjab province will address a press conference at Lahore Press Club on August 23.

Alleging that persecution is spiraling in Pakistan , he said that the alliance felt the need for reorganizing its Lawyers’ Wing to tender Legal Assistance to oppressed minorities of Pakistan . The Legal aid will be provided free of charge, he informed.

He said the APMA Lawyers will fight to ensure that justice is done to the victims of blasphemy, rape, forced conversion or any other form of injustice.

The APMA Lawyers, he maintained will take cases of minority peoples’ human rights violations, land grabbing of minorities’ properties by land mafia. The lawyers will also give their recommendations vis-à-vis eradicating constitutional and systemic discrimination, said Shahbaz.

He called for appointment of senior and competent minority lawyers as judges in four High Courts and Supreme Court of the country. The APMA Lawyers’ Wing will strive to see this goal realized, he said.

When his attention was drawn to the situation of Pakistani Christians of Peshawar, whom hardline Islamists are threatening to convert to Islam, Shahbaz told ANS that APMA had condemned the tactics of converting minorities to Islam by holding press conferences when the residents of Charsadda, Mardan and Shantinagar had received letters, asking them to convert to Islam or else they will have to face death.

He alleged that the government had failed to provide protection to minorities communities. It has failed to apprehend the perpetrators, who he said are harassing the minorities communities by dispatching threatening letters.

He claimed that APMA’s 30 point Charter of Demands (CoD) has been hailed at home and abroad. He said the alliance was going to conduct meetings in different cities of Pakistan to seek their endorsement of the CoD.

He urged all political parties of the country to include APMA’s Charter of Demands in their election manifesto.