Pakistan: Marching for justice and freedom
Aid to the Church in Need and the British Pakistani Christian Association have delivered petitions calling for action to protect Christians and other minorities in Pakistan to 10 Downing Street.
The documents bearing the names of more than 6,000 people were presented at Number 10 by an ecumenical delegation which included Neville Kyrke-Smith, UK director of Aid to the Church in Need.
Aid to the Church in Need is continuing to collect signatures for the petition.
The visit to the Prime Minister's residence on Saturday, 2 July came at the climax of a two-mile protest march highlighting human rights violations in Pakistan.
Both the march and the petitions called for protection of Christians and other minorities amid widespread criticism of Pakistan's Blasphemy Laws. The laws impose sentences including execution and life imprisonment for offences against Islam.
The Pakistan authorities have been lambasted for inaction over widespread abuse of the laws and the petitions called for improved law enforcement.
Speaking out against the laws
Earlier this year, Punjab governor Salman Taseer and federal minorities' minister Shahbaz Bhatti were killed after criticising the controversial legislation and related mob violence.
Tributes to Shahbaz Bhatti were paid at the event, which was organised by Wilson Chowdhry and the British Pakistani Christian Association and involved Aid to the Church in Need, Christian Solidarity Worldwide and Christian Concern. Sikh, Hindu and Muslim representatives also took part.
Neville Kyrke-Smith, UK Director of Aid to the Church in Need, addresses participants in the protest march against Pakistan's Blasphemy Laws
Speaking outside 10 Downing Street, Neville Kyrke-Smith said: "We are at one with those who are persecuted in Pakistan and all those who suffer in connection with the Blasphemy Laws.
"Please help us to change these blasphemous Blasphemy Laws – they lead to killings.
"We ask the government of David Cameron to ensure that religious rights are included in any and every discussion with other countries."
His comments come after the British government was criticised in March for plans to increase UK aid to Pakistan in spite of an upsurge in reports of increased human rights' violations, especially against minorities. Read more
During the protest, keynote speeches were given by Mr Chowdhry, Andrea Minichello-Williams of Christian Concern, Manoj Raithatha of the Evangelical Alliance, Alan Craig, leader of the Christian People's Alliance, Alison Ruoff, a member of the Synod of the Church of England, and the Rt Rev Michael Nazir Ali, former Bishop of Rochester, who is of Pakistani extraction.
More than 300 people took part in the march, which started with a prayer service and speeches outside the High Commission for Pakistan in London's Lowndes Square, where a copy of the petitions was handed in.
Wilson Chowdhry of the British Pakistan Christian Association addressses protesters
Participants in the Pakistan Protest March
Speaking out for peace and justice in Pakistan
Neville Kyrke-Smith and Wilson Chowdhry present petitions at 10 Downing Street
Marching for human rights: 300 protesters took to the streets of London to back justice for Christians in Pakistan
Cardinal adds his support
Scotland's Cardinal Keith O'Brien, Archbishop of St Andrews and Edinburgh, signed Aid to the Church in Need's petition – along with nearly 2,000 people calling for reform of the Blasphemy Laws and improved law enforcement.
A further 4,500 people signed the British Pakistani Christian Association's petition calling for the release of mother-of-five Asia Bibi, imprisoned on Blasphemy Law charges.
Speaking before submitting the petition, Mr Chowdhry said: "The Pakistan government has got to realise the horrendous human rights abuses recorded in their country."
Imam Dr Taj Hargey, from the Muslim Educational Centre of Oxford, condemned Pakistani extremists carrying out violence in the name of the Blasphemy Laws.
Quoting sources showing the Prophet Mohammed's respect for Christians, he said: "The people who carry out such violence malign my faith and bring it into disrepute. They stand for everything I am against."
Bishop Nazir Ali said: "The Blasphemy Laws are being used against Christians and people like the Ahmahdis [a religious group derived from Islam].
"The Blasphemy Laws are bad laws. The laws have destroyed Pakistan's reputation in the international community."
Aid to the Church in Need UK's John Pontifex, who has travelled widely in Pakistan, told the marchers: "The only way change can come to the people of Pakistan – especially minority groups – is if the Blasphemy Laws are amended.
"Action is needed to safeguard the rights of Sikhs, Hindus, Christians and Muslims too."
You can still sign the petition calling for the reform of Pakistan's Blasphemy Laws.