PAKISTAN/UK: Defend religious freedom, inter-faith delegates tell embassy
By John Newton
Left to right: Pakistani Christian Stephen Anjum, Cherrie Anderson of Catholic electro-pop group ooberfuse, Raheel Tariq, High Commission of Pakistan political secretary and John Pontifex of Aid to the Church in Need outside the High Commission of Pakistan in London. Photo: Aid to the Church in Need
Calls for religious freedom and action to stamp out mob violence in Pakistan have been made by an inter-faith delegation meeting at the country’s embassy in London.
Incident reports and analysis showing worsening intolerance towards religious minorities in Pakistan were outlined during the 30-minute discussion involving Nazim Khan Ghauri MBE of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Association, ooberfuse pop group front woman Cherrie Anderson, John Pontifex from Aid to the Church in Need and Stephen Anjum, who fled persecution in Pakistan with his family.
The delegates said Pakistan religious minorities needed better security and that action was necessary to tackle growing extremism amid signs the country was at increasing risk from Islamist mobs.
Responding to the concerns, Raheel Tariq, High Commission for Pakistan political secretary, assured the delegates that the country was committed to democracy and to the principles of peace and justice.
The delegates submitted a petition for the release of Christian mother-of-five Asia Bibi, on death row for alleged blasphemy against the prophet Mohammed, and presented a manuscript copy of ‘Blasphemy’, a book telling her story.
An interview with Aid to the Church in Need's John Pontifex, conducted by Troisnyx of pop group Kingdom of Herts
The meeting, on Thursday 14th June, came at the start of an event staged outside the embassy building in Knightsbridge marking the third anniversary of Mrs Bibi’s incarceration.
Wilson Chowdhry, chairman of the British Pakistani Christian Association, said Mrs Bibi continued to suffer injustice in her bid to overturn the sentence on appeal, and went on to outline problems of law and order where religious minorities suffered especially badly.
Further speeches were made by Mr Anjum, Brian Scully from Christian human rights organisation Open Doors, and Mr Pontifex, who had been asked to represent the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales at the event.
Extracts from ‘Blasphemy’ were read out, taken from an English translation of the book produced by ooberfuse’s Hal St John.
After the event, Ms Anderson said: “It was very generous of the High Commissioner [of Pakistan] to allow us to share our concerns with his representative, Mr Tariq.
“We explained how the Blasphemy Law was being used in practice to discriminate against not just Christian minorities but also… Ahmadiyya Muslims too.”
Mr Pontifex, who edited a series of reports about persecuted Christians, said: “Mr Tariq responded to our manifold concerns and complaints with great courtesy. He gave us a great deal of his time.
“At a time of increasing tension, it is imperative that people of all faiths and none in Pakistan receive meaningful assurances from the state that violence, discrimination and religious hatred will not be tolerated – that freedom and justice are not just fine-sounding words but are recognised as the foundation stones of society.”