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ICC Note:

Christians and other religious minorities around Pakistan observed Minorities’ Day on Monday by calling on the Pakistani government to make every effort to grant equal rights to all Pakistanis regardless of their religious background. The situation for Christians and other religious minorities in Pakistan continues to deteriorate as religious intolerance and terrorism escalates in the South Asian nation. Will Pakistan’s government take heed?

8/12/2014 Pakistan (The News International) – Minorities’ Day was observed on Monday with calls for amendments to the Constitution ensuring equality for religious minorities, effective implementation of five percent quota for minorities in all government jobs, arrangements for the protection of non-Muslim worship places and an increase in representation of Christians, Sikhs and Hindus in National Assembly and Senate.

The day chosen by the previous Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) government, under the leadership of former president Asif Ali Zardari, is observed with intent of recognizing the contribution of religious minorities to the struggle for an independent Pakistan and to the growth and prosperity of the country.

The date is significant as founder of Pakistan Muhammad Ali Jinnah delivered a speech to the Constituent Assembly on this day in history, which called for complete religious freedom in the country and stated that all citizens of Pakistan are Pakistani irrespective of their faith and beliefs. It is relevant to note that in 2007 on the 60th anniversary of Jinnah’s speech, minority groups including Christians and Hindus in Pakistan held an historic rally at Minar-e-Pakistan calling for his message to be carried forward by presiding governments and bringing changes in the Constitution. The day is popularly invoked by minority rights activists to support their demands for equal status.

Speaking on the occasion of Minorities’ Day, representatives of Masiha Millat Party, in a press conference, said even as Christian leader and former speaker of Punjab Assembly Diwan Bahadur SP Singha had cast the deciding vote for the province to join Pakistan, Christians and other groups were denied the same rights as their Muslim brethren in the country’s Constitution.

Pastor Marcus Sharif alleged that young girls belonging to Hindu and Christian communities in all four provinces are married to older men without their consent. Marcus Sharif said such act was not investigated and criminals enjoy complete impunity from law. He said religious minorities were denied separate electorates and minority representatives in assemblies do not have the ability to speak against their party’s lack of action. Pastor Sharif added no MPA or MNA from a minority group had brought forward legislation improving the status of religious minorities in national and provincial assemblies.

Representatives of Masiha Millat Party said women belonging to minority communities from union council level to Senate lack representation. Properties belonging to Christians, given by their ancestors to the Pakistan government shortly after independence, have also not been returned to them, alleged the party representatives.

The speakers at the press conference highlighted arson attacks on minorities in Joseph Colony, Peshawar All Saints Church, Shantinagar, Gojra and Sangla Hills. They alleged that more than 14,000 Christians have left Pakistan and are living abroad due to threats to their life and property.

All Pakistan Minorities Alliance (APMA) also held a seminar to shed light on the contributions of minorities in the country’s history. It demanded the government repeal all ‘discriminatory’ constitutional amendments, stop misuse of law against minorities, remove hate speech from all media and educational curriculums and award additional 20 points for all government job applicants with knowledge of Bible and other religious scriptures, implement five percent job quota in Punjab and KPK, field minority candidates on general seats for parliamentary elections, bring changes in Christian and Hindu personal laws in consultation with relevant religious leaders and to return St Francis High School in Anarkali to the local Christian community.

On this occasion, late PPP Federal Minister for Minorities Affairs and Christian activist Shahbaz Bhatti was praised for his campaign to have a day dedicated to Pakistan’s minorities, in addition to introducing legislation enacting five percent quota for minorities in government jobs and providing minorities with four seats in Senate. Shahbaz Bhatti was murdered on March 2, 2011 by unidentified gunmen in Islamabad.

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