03/10/2018, 16.57
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In Lahore, a movement for tolerance holds a hunger strike against blasphemy laws

by Shafique Khokhar

The protest took place yesterday in front of the Provincial Assembly of Punjab. Many politicians, civil society leaders, and clerics were present. The cases of Patras Masih and his cousin Sajid, who is in hospital with serious injuries, were cited.

Lahore (AsiaNews) – Rwadari Tehreek, an inter-faith movement for tolerance that operates across Pakistan, held a hunger strike yesterday as a protest against the misuse of the country’s blasphemy laws.

The demonstration took place in Lahore, in front of the Provincial Assembly of Punjab, and saw the participation of representatives of civil society groups and religious leaders.

Together they protested against the recurrent attacks against members of religious minorities accused of insulting Islam. They also called for a policy and a strategy to stop the misuse of the law, often applied in a discriminatory fashion against minorities in everyday life, in the workplace, and to attack their property.

People of different religions, politicians, clerics and community leaders joined the hunger strike, to express their concern over the frequent mistreatment of minority believers and show their solidarity towards the victims of attacks.

The latest are Patras Masih, a 17-year-old man accused of blasphemy for a comment posted on Facebook, and his cousin Sajid Masih.

The latter remains in serious conditions at Lahore’s Mayo Hospital after he jumped from the fourth floor of a Punjab police station to escape police torture and an attempt to force him to perform oral sex on his underage relative.

Among the prominent individuals who joined the protest were Mgr Azad Marshal, bishop of Raiwind Diocese; Rev Shahid Miraj, dean of the cathedral; Rev Majeed Abel, moderator of the Presbyterian Church; Rev Emmanuel Khokhar, senior pastor of the Church of Pakistan; Saadia Sohail and Shunila Ruth, both members of the Provincial Assembly for Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf; Peter Jacob, executive director of the Centre for Social Justice; Cecil S. Chaudhary, executive director of the National Commission for Justice and Peace of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Pakistan; Adoo Ram, of Rwadari Tehreek; Sabira Asmat, chief organiser for the Rwadari Tehreek of Punjab; Munir Ahmed Bhatti, president of Rwadari Tehreek of Lahore; Vickram Manzoor, secretary general of Rwadari Tehreek of Lahore.

Rwadari Tehreek chairman Samson Salamat said he was very concerned about the "deteriorating situation in which religious minorities live. The frequent incidents have intensified the sense of threat and terror.”

Among other things, “The biased, discriminatory and hateful behaviour of officials conducting the interrogations is not a positive sign for Pakistan's multi-religious society”.

Specifically, the activists call on the authorities:

- to set up a joint team to carry out a second, fair, transparent and credible investigation into the case of Patras Masih, who was arrested in Shahdarah (Lahore) on blasphemy charges, and his cousin Sajid Masih who was brutally tortured;

- to bring to justice to those involved in the torture and who engaged in hate mongering behaviour during the investigation of Patras Masih and Sajid Masih;

- to provide adequate medical care and security measures to Sajid Masih to ensure his speedy recovery and protect him from further threats;

- to formulate, at the provincial and federal levels, a policy and a strategy to stop the misuse of the blasphemy legislation, which has been used as an instrument to persecute of minorities;

- to implement immediately the National Action Plan and take action against those individuals and groups involved in hate speech, and incitement and violence against religious minorities.

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