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World Council of Churches calls on Pakistan government to release Blasphemy Law protestors
World Council of Churches (WCC) acting general secretary Georges Lemopoulos today sent a letter to General Pervaiz Musharaf, chief executive of Pakistan, calling for the repeal of the Blasphemy Law under Pakistan's penal code, and for the release of seventeen persons who were arrested on 10 January 2001 while participating in a peaceful demonstration against this law.
The text of the letter follows:
"The World Council of Churches has learned with deep concern of the arrests of Fr. Arnold Heredia, former executive secretary of the Committee for Justice and Peace, presently the priest of St. Francis Parish in Karachi and a Council member of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan; Mr Aslam Martin, project co-ordinator for the Committee for Justice and Peace; Mr Riaz Nawab of Caritas, Karachi; and fourteen others on 10 January while they were engaged in peaceful demonstration near Rainbow Centre, Saddar, Karachi. The protestors were taking part in a procession to the governor's house, organised by the newly-formed All Faith Spiritual Movement, to submit a memorandum demanding the repeal of the Blasphemy Law.
According to reports we have received, the peaceful demonstrators were not only restrained from proceeding to the governor's house, but they were also tear-gassed and beaten by the security forces. As a result Fr. Heredia and some of the other protestors were injured. The seventeen protestors are presently under detention on remand by the authorities at the Preedy police station.
The World Council of Churches has previously drawn the attention of the Government of Pakistan to the serious situation that has arisen as a result of discriminatory practices and of persecution of religious minorities in Pakistan including Christians, Ahmadiyas and Hindus. Extremist forces and groups have, in particular, used the Blasphemy Law to incite religious hatred and animosity against these religious minorities. These incidences have been well documented by both national and international organisations, including the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan. They have greatly contributed to the growing environment of religious intolerance, often resulting in serious disturbances of law and order and serious abuses of human rights.
These developments are in violation of Article 36 of the Constitution of Pakistan that guarantees the legitimate rights and interests of the minorities. Despite the assurances given to religious minorities by Quaid-e-Azam, Mohammed Ali Jinnah, that "minorities are a sacred trust of Pakistan," their security is not protected and they continue to be victimised at the hands of unscrupulous sections of society. We have thus appealed to the Government of Pakistan to take immediate steps to repeal Section 295 C of the Pakistan Penal Code.
It was not in defiance, but in defence of the Constitution of Pakistan that the above-mentioned persons presently under police detention peacefully protested, demanding repeal of the Blasphemy Law. We therefore urge you to assure their immediate release, their protection from unlawful abuse from any quarter, and at the same time to guarantee the security and physical integrity of others under your jurisdiction presently charged under the Blasphemy Law."
The World Council of Churches is a fellowship of churches, now 337, in more than 100 countries in all continents from virtually all Christian traditions. The Roman Catholic Church is not a member church but works cooperatively with the WCC. The highest governing body is the assembly, which meets approximately every seven years. The WCC was formally inaugurated in 1948 in Amsterdam, Netherlands. Its staff is headed by general secretary Konrad Raiser from the Evangelical Church in Germany.