Bhutto's death 'devastating' for Pakistani Christians

The killing of former Prime Minister and opposition leader Benazir Bhutto is "devastating news" for Pakistan's oppressed Christian population. This was the reaction of the Centre for Legal Aid, Assistance and Settlement (CLAAS), an organisation that fights for the rights of Pakistan's 3.5 million-strong Christian minority.

Nasir Saeed, director of CLAAS had said that Bhutto had been "the best hope" for the country's non-Muslim population as well as the nation.

"We had spoken with Ms Bhutto about the appalling persecution that Christians currently face. She listened hard to our grievances and promised that she would attempt to rectify the situation, once she was back in the Parliament. Pakistani Christians around the World had been praying for her and supporting her for many years now. She was the most enlightened and moderate politician and struggled hard to bring real democracy to the country. The Christian minority in Pakistan has suffered a great loss and now fear that they will never be able to replace Ms Bhutto of whom they held great hopes for an end to fundamentalism and persecution.

"Now, following her brutal assassination, we need governments and citizens around the world to speak out, and to apply pressure on Pakistan's future Government."

Although Pakistan's constitution promises equal rights for all, the country's non-Muslim population are effectively second class citizens. CLAAS (Centre of Legal Aid Assurance and Settlement) receives hundreds of first-hand accounts of wrongful arrest, imprisonment, torture and even execution of Christians. Similarly, reports of attacks, rapes and murders on Christians go un-investigated by the police and courts.

At the heart of many of these incidents is the nation's Blasphemy Laws. These state that a person may face execution for profaning the name of the Prophet Mohammed, or defacing the Quran. These laws have been used for arrest and persecution of Christians, often based on an unsupported allegations made by someone with a score to settle.

A bill was brought to Pakistan's elected parliament in 2007, attempting to amend the Blasphemy Laws. It was dismissed out of hand by the Parliamentary Affairs minister Dr Sher Afghan. "Islam is our religion and such bills hurt our feelings. This is not a secular state but the Islamic Republic of Pakistan."

Mr Saeed says that CLAAS will fight on, offering individual legal aid, and support for everybody suffering because of these laws. But, he said, it was time for the World to speak out: "If enough people knew about these appalling injustices, and made their voices heard, we could finally bring an end to the endless tales of torture, rape, execution and mob violence that we have to read about as a matter of course at CLAAS."

Courtesy of Independent Catholic News

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