Scales for Justice

Working towards peace and reconciliation



Scales for Justice country visit to Pakistan

S4J was founded in the conviction that justice is precondition for universal and lasting peace, yet that far far too often injustice remains unnoticed and far too few times action is taken. S4J therefore sees its task in collecting information on issues related to human rights and to engage the concerned human rights bodies of the United Nations accordingly.

S4J is particularly concerned about the rights of minorities and the right to development, especially when violations affect fundamental rights such as the right to life and liberty, the right to due process and law, freedom of thought, freedom of expression and the right to peaceful assembly. S4J further examines cases of racial discrimination and racially motivated violence.

In order to understand the sitution on the grund S4J undertook a fiel visit to Pakistan and remains deeply concerned about the situation, as minorities in the country suffer from systematic patter of discrminiation that affects their human rights on all leves, in particular with regard to the right to freedom of religion and their right to development.

Background

Pakistan is a country located in south Asia with an estimated population of about 188.000 people and ranks 6 in the list of countries by population. 95-98% of the pulation are Muslims, the remaining 2-5% are Christians, Hindu and other. About 81 per cent (2 million) of Christians live in Punjab. Pakistan has the seventh largest standing armed forces in the world and is also a nuclear power as well as a declared nuclear-weapons state.

The modern state of Pakistn was born at the end of the British rule in 1947, when the area was divided into the the India and the predominantly Muslim nation of Pakistan. Ever since its history has been characterised by periods of military rule, political instability and conflicts with neighbouring India. Until today the country continues to face challenging problems, including overpopulation, terrorism, poverty, illiteracy, and corruption.

Asia Bibi, mother of five, is one of the most prominent cases convicted of blasphemy, she was sentenced to death by hanging in 2010 following an argument with Muslim women.

One of the biggest issues remains the blashphemy law, section 295-C of the penal code, which dates back to the British rule in the 19th century and was strengthened in the 1970s and the 80s. Until today these days the law remains in force. In the vast majority of the cases they have however little to do with religion and rather serve to settle personal scores. Even an accusation can be a death sentence. Most cases are reported in the province of Punjab and douzens of people charged with blasphemy have been killed extra-judicially. On November 4, 2014, an angry mob attacked a Christian couple, Shama and Shahzad Masih, in Kot Radha Kishan in Punjab for suspected blasphemy. The couple was savagely beaten and then burned to death. According to Human Rights Watch at least 19 people are currently on death row for blasphemy in Pakistan, while another 20 are serving life sentences.

Amending the blasphemy law has been on the agenda of nearly all the popular secular parties but none of them has made much progress. Amending the law is a highly sensitive issue and no major party wants to challenge the religious parties. Many of those opposing the blasphemy laws have been killed, among them Minister Shahbaz Bhatti, who was shot in 2011. The last time an amendment bill was proposed in late 2010, the prime minister had it withdrawn from parliament’s legislative agenda. It was never voted on. On May 7, 2014 two unidentified gunmen killed Rashid Rehman, a prominent human rights defender and member of the nongovernmental Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, for his willingness to represent people accused of blasphemy. His killers remain at large.

Discrimination related to the blashemy law however goes far beyond freedom of expression and fredom of religion, as it also affects the minorities' right to life and to development.  Members of minorities ususally live in slums, have little access to education, have great difficulties to find a job and girls often serve as domestic workers and nurses, always at risk of being exploited and raped with impunity. A survey by "Christians in Pakistan" undertaken in June 2015 asked participants what among lack of education, lack of resources, security, religious discrimmination they considered the most serious problem for minorities in Pakistan. Most participants replied all of the factors were important, lack of education and religious discrimination however were the most significant.

S4J visit to Pakistan

S4J undertook a field visit to Pakistan in 2011 and reports regularly on the situation, especially with regard to the systematic pattern of harassment, abuse, discrimination and  violence that affect minorities in Pakistan on all levels.

Karachi

Karachi is the biggest city in Pakistan and also one of the most thickly populated cities in the world. During our visit we stayed in Gulistan e Johar, one of the poorest and most tensed areas in Karachi. The socio economic problems turned the visit into a real adventure. It was therefore all the more impressing to feel the hospitality and courage of the people, who despite all hardship remain positive and hopeful and who do whatever they can for their local community. We also visited one of the beggar slums in Karachi. The extreme precautions taken ahead of the visit were proven smart when we managed to jump into the nearby waiting car by the last second before being torn into pieces. Read more about the visit to Karachi here.

Islamabad

Islamabad is the capital of Pakistan with a population of about 2 million and one of the most cosmopolitan and urbanized cities of Pakistan. Our trip to Islamabad included sight seeing of the most beautiful sites and parcs of Islamabad, as well as a visit to the slums. Especially this visit left a lasting impression, full of contrasting imges. On one hand there was the abject poverty and desperation of the people, on the other hand however the hope and courage those people radiated despite all hardship. Read more about the visit to Islamabad here.


Conclusion

As an NGO working towards lasting peace and reconciliation through ending injustice S4J is extremely concerned about the situation of minorities in Pakistan, especially with regard to the blasphemy law and the right to development. S4J therefore will actively engage for an abolition of section 295-C of the penal code, for protection of human rights defenders as well as for equal opportunities for all members of the Pakistani society, in line with the words of Martin Luther King 

"I have the audacity to believe that peoples everywhere can have three meals a day for their bodies, education and culture for their minds, and dignity, equality, and freedom for their spirits."


What can you do? 

Minorities living in Pakistan need our support, on a practical as well as on a moral level.

  • Use social platforms like Facebook and get in touch with the people
  • Talk to them and show them they are not alone in their struggle
  • Share their concerns using social platforms
  • Support social and educational programs
  • Raise your voice against discrimination and blasphemy laws
  • Stand up for human rights defenders 
  • Go and visit, you will not regret!