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ICC Note:

Extremist political groups in Pakistan have gained significant influence over the government following a controversy over an amendment to the oath for office extremists considered blasphemous. In October, Pakistan’s government made a slight change to the oath for newly elected officials to recite before taking office that effected the finality of prophethood of Muhammad. Political extremist groups viewed this change as blasphemous and instigated sit-in protests in Islamabad for over two weeks. In the end, these protests broke out into violence and the government capitulated to the demands of the extremists. This capitulation is very concerning for Christians and other religious minorities as it shows Pakistan’s political and religious extremists are gaining greater influence over the country’s government. 

11/27/2017 Pakistan (Christian Today) – Pakistan, ranked fourth on Open Doors’ 2017 World Watch List of the 50 countries where it is most difficult to be a Christian, is in the midst of a blasphemy crisis which has seen violence in Islamabad that left at least seven people dead and hundreds wounded, and protests which spread to major cities across the country including Karachi and Lahore.

An Islamist leader whose group has been clashing violently with Pakistani security forces, leaving Islamabad paralyzed for weeks, has today finally called off the sit-in protest today after forcing the law minister to resign, which was the group’s key demand.

The deadly controversy revolves around a slight amendment to the oath which election candidates must swear. Now, the government has reportedly agreed to take action against those who were responsible for making changes in the oath about finality of prophethood, known as the the Khatm-i-Nabuwwat oath in the Elections Act 2017.

In October it emerged that in the now abandoned revised form of the oath, the words ‘I believe’ had replaced the originally drafted ‘I solemnly swear’ and the clause relating to Khatm-e-Naboowat has not been made applicable to non-Muslim candidates.

The government blamed the change on a clerical error and swiftly restored the original format, but now the minister responsible has gone, and the protests have been abandoned. ‘On the assurance of the Chief of Army Staff, we are calling off the sit-in,’ Khadim Hussain Rizvi told a crowd of around 2,500 demonstrators from the previously obscure Tehreek-i-Labaik Ya Rasool Allah Pakistan (TLYRA), who have occupied a main highway into the capital since November 6.

This followed reports on state media that the law minister, Zahid Hamid, had had his resignation accepted by the prime minister.

The decision by the ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) to capitulate to the demands of the protesters underlines the influence of extremist religious groups in the nuclear-armed nation. According to Reuters, Islamist parties are unlikely to win a majority in the elections expected next August, but could play a major role.

The oath row follows a series of recent blasphemy and persecution cases against Christians.

In August, a Pakistani Christian boy was sentenced to death after he was arrested and charged with burning pages of the Quran.

Asif Massih, 18, was taken into custody on August 12 after an alleged incident took place in Jam Kayk Chattha village, near the town of Wazirabad, in central Punjab province.

In October, a Christian boy was reportedly beaten to death by police in Pakistan in an apparent revenge attack after the boy was in a fight with a Muslim classmate who tried to bully him into renouncing Christianity.

The case follows the killing of another Christian student in August, when Sharoon Masih was beaten to death by at least one Muslim classmate during school hours in Punjab’s Vehari district.

The plight of Christians in Pakistan was highlighted in an Amnesty International report taking aim at the country’s blasphemy laws last year.

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