Faisalabad (AsiaNews) - The Pakistani government must take "immediate steps" to stop abuses related to the country's blasphemy laws, and punish those found guilty of making false accusations out of revenge or in order to settle personal scores.
The government must take charge of security in order to prevent outbreaks of mob violence and attacks incited by local religious leaders and extremist groups.
To achieve this goal, it is essential to ensure better training in the army and police forces whose leaders must be held accountable in the event of non-compliance or if they deliberately fail to intervene to prevent or thwart crimes and abuses.
Activists, religious leaders and ordinary citizens, Christians and Muslims, pressed these demands during a candlelight vigil held yesterday in Faisalabad, Punjab.
During the protest, demonstrators remembered the tragic murder of a young Christian couple, burnt alive by an angry mob because they were deemed "guilty" of blasphemy.
The initiative was sponsored by the National Minorities Alliance of Pakistan (NMAP), in cooperation with the Joshwa Welfare Organisation (JWO) and the Muslim Masihi Ittehad (MMI).
The rally brought together more than a thousand people, including priests, nuns, activists, human rights defenders, students, children and representatives of Christian and Muslim groups.
Brandishing placards, they chanted slogans in praise of peace and the protection of the rights of persecuted minorities.
At the end of the march, at Gate Square, protesters together recited a inter-religious prayer for Shama and Shahzad, the latest innocent victims of Pakistan's blasphemy laws.
For NMAP president Lala Robin Daniel, the "killing of Christians in the name of religion under the cover of blasphemy laws is the equivalent of genocide of minorities".
In his addressed, he called for laws to prevent future incidents, acts of violence and personal attacks carried out in the name of blasphemy as well as reforms to ensure equal rights for minorities.
Father Iftikhar Moon, pastor at Warispura (Faisalabad), accused the central government of failing to protect minorities, who are "targeted in the name of religion".
He also said that those who make unfounded accusations of blasphemy against innocent people should be held accountable and be brought to justice.
Rev Suhail Kanwal agreed. In his view, "The misuse of blasphemy laws is tantamount to committing an act of blasphemy" and deserve similar punishments.
For this reason, a special commission of inquiry is needed to probe blasphemy cases still "pending in courts," including the tragic case of Asia Bibi.
Finally, Muslim activist Younas Abar called for laws and regulations in the labour market, particularly in factories and brick kilns where workers, especially from minority background, are subjected to abuse and harassment.
He stressed the urgent need to survey factories and implement regulations to protect workers.