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Wake-Up Calls to Pakistani Government Go Unheeded with Deadly Results

by Staff
September 18, 2009
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WASHINGTON, ( -- In the shocking light of the horrific police torture and falsely alleged "suicide" in police custody of a falsely accused Pakistani Christian, Fanish Robert, this past week in the Punjab Province of Pakistan, Advocates International and the Jubilee Campaign USA again join many other in the international community urging Pakistan to end the impunity, police brutality and religious persecution caused by its blasphemy laws by immediately suspending all blasphemy arrests and prosecutions and abolishing its unjust blasphemy laws.

On September 15, 2009, The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan declared the "judicial murder" of Fanish Robert by police whom the organization said engaged in a "torture killing" of the young man. Arrested by police on September 12, accusers claimed Fanish had committed blasphemy and announced their intention to teach the local Christian community "a lesson." A mob damaged the church, set it on fire and then pillaged two homes near the church.

Advocates International's General Counsel, Sam Casey, said: "Police justify arresting persons accused of blasphemy claiming to protect him or her. However, clearly visible in photographs of Fanish taken at the morgue show clear signs of torture, and not strangulation as the police are claiming was self- inflicted. Jubilee Campaign and Advocates International condemn the police torture and the murder of Fanish Robert. Jubilee Campaign's General Counsel, Ann Buwalda, said: "While it is our hope and commitment to work with the Pakistani government and the civil society and legal organizations on the ground in the hard work of preserving the rule of law while protecting the religious liberties of all Pakistanis, this work cannot successfully proceed until justice is done in this tragic, but all too common case."

In his report describing the blasphemy allegation motivated attack which began on September 11, 2009, on a Christian church in the village Jathikai Tehsi Samberial of Sialkot District of Punjab Province, the well-respected Pakistani civil rights attorney, Joseph Francis, who works with AI and Jubilee Campaign in Pakstan stated: "Very obviously and clearly it is in the notice of police and police officials that the extremist religious organizations are linked to Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan and were behind the carnage and killing in Korian and Gojra. But they have failed to motivate the Punjab government to take a strong action against these organizations and their sympathizers. One can only hope that these wake-up calls, one after the other, will convince the government in Pakistan to repeal the blasphemy laws and to build a culture of tolerance and maintain safety and security of the religious minority in Pakistan." Without the intervention of Joseph Francis and other Christian leaders in this village, additional lives would have been lost.

The rise in attacks against religious minorities comes against a backdrop - and in tandem - with rising religious extremism in the country. Advocates International and Jubilee Campaign are concerned at the discrimination, harassment and attacks against all religious minorities, including Ahmadis, Christians, Shiite, Sikhs and Hindus, that are widespread in Pakistan and too often accomplished with either impunity, injury to law enforcement officials and, as again occurred in the case of, police torture and brutality against persons in custody falsely accused of blasphemy.

Fanish Robert's murder in police custody comes in the wake of two brutal mob attacks against the Christian communities of Gojra and Korian Village in Faisalabad last month which flared up over allegations of blasphemy that left at least 7 dead, nearly 100 Christian homes burned, and much unrest in Pakistan. Though not explicitly stating which laws would be reviewed, his statement alluded to the country's Attacks on religious minorities have been exacerbated by Pakistan's criminal blasphemy laws found in Article XV of its Penal Code introduced in 1982 and 1986 by military leader Zia ul-Haq in attempt to use Islam to promote popular appeal for his military regime. These laws which have only fostered a climate of religiously-motivated violence and persecution. Accusations of blasphemy have frequently resulted in the murder of both Muslims and members of religious minorities, just as occurred in the most recent case of Famish Robert.

The blasphemy laws, while purporting to protect Islam and religious sensitivities of the Muslim majority, are vaguely formulated and arbitrarily enforced by the police and judiciary in a way which amounts to harassment and persecution of religious minorities. In fact, no charge of blasphemy has ever been affirmed on appeal in Pakistan. In January of this year, five Ahamdis, including one minor, were detained on spurious charges of blasphemy in the Layyah district, with no evidence or witnesses to support the charges against them. Often the government tries to excuse this impunity and false prosecution by saying it must arrest and detain accused blasphemers simply to protect them from the mob, but now with Fanish Robert's torture and death we see the false "cure" of police protective custody is even worse for the rule of law and credibility of the government than the "disease" of mob violence that blasphemy laws have completely failed to cure.

Evidence from Advocates International and other human rights groups in Pakistan with whom Advocates works suggests that not only are minorities being abused by the police in custody, but the charges brought against individuals under the blasphemy laws are founded solely on the individuals' minority religious beliefs or unfounded malicious accusations stemming from personal enmity, often with the motivation to have people imprisoned to gain advantage in business or land disputes. Police, not only physically abuse people in custody with impunity, but also frequently fail to record and investigate complaints and justice is impeded by the biased attitude of some judges against religious minorities.

Advocates International and the Jubilee Campaign urges the government of Pakistan to immediately suspend any and all enforcement of blasphemy laws for the simple reason that the police cannot now be trusted to safely arrest and correctly process persons accused of blasphemy. We further urge amend or abolish the blasphemy laws, particularly section 295C of the Pakistan Penal Code which carries a mandatory death penalty for anyone found guilty of blasphemy. The organization calls on the Pakistan government to guarantee the human rights of minorities laid down in the Constitution and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, notably Article 18 which provides that "everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion."

The organization also calls Pakistan government to put into law and practice anti-discrimination measure on the grounds of religion. To this end, the Pakistan government should introduce a comprehensive education program, at all levels of society, which promotes equality and respect for the diversity of beliefs in Pakistan.

Advocates International will meet today in Washington with Shabazz Bhatti, Pakistan's Federal Minister for Minorities to condemn Fanish Robert's brutal treatment and death in police custody and again express its willingness to work on both short-term and long-term solutions that will aid Pakistan in helping its entire people live peacefully with its religious differences under the equal protection of its law.

Advocates International's President, Sam Ericsson, said: History teaches us that blasphemy laws never achieve their intended purpose and only lead to the injury and corruption of their proponents, social unrest, and the unjust oppression of religious minorities against whom they are directed. Under the current horrific circumstances, we ask that the government of Pakistan suspend or dismiss all pending blasphemy law prosecutions, and abolish the blasphemy law, a root cause of the false allegations which stir up the sentiments of the community. We also ask the government of Pakistan to fully investigate prosecute all those who have harmed, tortured or murdered innocent villagers and those responsible for inciting the violence and destruction of homes, including the police responsible for Fanish Robert's death. All such investigations and judicial inquiry reports must be transparent and made publicly available to have any credibility at all. We ask that all the injured receive proper medical care and lost property compensation. For the sake of everyone in Pakistan, we call upon the government of Pakistan to at last go beyond merely celebrating 'Minorities Day' to actually prevent future violence targeted at Christian and other minority groups, including those subject to charges of blasphemy."

Advocates International is an international organization of staff and volunteer attorneys in over 150 nations, including Pakistan, who seek to do justice with compassion, including through its Religious Freedom Global Task Force, working to assure, in the words of Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, that "everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion, including the freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance."

Jubilee International USA promotes the human rights and religious liberty of ethnic and religious minorities in countries which imprison, terrorize or otherwise oppress them. We advocate the release of prisoners of conscience and the change of laws as necessary to effect these purposes. Jubilee also advocates against the exploitation of children, paying particular attention to the sex industry in Asia.

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