From the 2014 World Humanist Congress: journalist, TV presenter, and Labour party peer Baroness Joan Bakewell interviews the legendary human rights activist Peter Tatchell.
A key supporter of Balochistan's independence struggle, defender of human rights in Pakistan and international gay rights activist, London-based Peter Tatchell, has denounced Islamabad for forcing Islam on the religious minorities as his foundation presented the report by the British Pakistani Christian Association on the status of Christians in Pakistan.
“We are delighted to present this report by the British Pakistani Christian Association. It reveals shocking inequalities, disadvantages and outright oppression of Christians and other minority faiths in Pakistan, such as Hindus and Sikhs. Atheists, secularists and humanists are also persecuted," Tatchell said in a statement Wednesday.
“The government of Pakistan has announced plans to force Islam on young people by making Quranic study compulsory for all school and college students, which is contrary to the country’s constitution and the Islamic precept that there should be no compulsion in religion. This is the latest escalation of the country’s bias against Christians, other minority faiths and non-believers,” said Peter Tatchell, Director of the human rights organisation, the Peter Tatchell Foundation. “Pakistani Christians, including children, are at risk of kidnapping, forced marriage and forced religious conversion to Islam. Some are also victims of blasphemy charges, which carry the death penalty. There are regular violent assaults on Christian families, homes, shops and churches, Tatchell said. He demanded the British government should make overseas aid to Pakistan conditional on Islamabad’s protection of the human rights of Christians and other minorities. "If Pakistan’s rulers do not comply, the UK should switch aid from the government to NGOs that do not discriminate," he stressed.
Dr Nazir S. Bhatti, president of the Pakistan Christian Congress, who was hounded by the Pakistani intelligence services for raising his voice for Christians and now lives in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, condemned the new Islamabad scheme and called it part of the decades-old grandiose design of Islamabad to develop a pure 100 percent Muslim Pakistani nation. "No one has ever been convicted for murder and rapes of Christian in Pakistan. Our girls and women live in constant fear," Dr Bhatti said. "Pakistan now seeks to end the Christian problem by converting school kids forcefully in schools," he deplored.
Tatchell said Pakistan is a member of the Commonwealth but by failing to ensure equality for Christians, other non-Islamic faiths and non-believers, Pakistan is in breach of its human rights obligations under the Commonwealth Charter, as well as under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Report by Wilson Chowdhry of the British Pakistani Christian Association (edited version): Pakistan's government has announced that learning the Quran will be mandatory for school and college students of all ages, with 15 minutes of Quranic scripture recitations and prayers to be required every day. This compulsion will apply to both public and private schools. See the Daily Times of Pakistan: http://go.shr.lc/29bCaQc
The Federal Minister for Education and Professional Training, Mohammad Balighur Rahman, said: “"The government has declared Quranic education compulsory from grade one to twelve in educational institutions....We have already consulted and presented the new syllabus to the Islamic Ideology Council and it has met their approval." Once the proposed amendment to the national curriculum is implemented, children in years 1-6 will be required to learn Quranic recitations (Nazira). Students in years 7-10 will be taught to recite scriptural verses about the incidents in the life of Muhammad. Students in years 10-12 will be required to learn the scriptural verses of instructions to the Ummah (Islamic people). This is the latest of many instances where Islam is privileged and people of other faiths or no faith are disadvantaged or discriminated against. For example, 15% of blasphemy allegations are laid against Christians who only make up 1.6% of the population. This is evidence of their pariah status. This latest education proposal is in contradiction to Article 22 of Pakistan's constitution which states: "(1) No person attending any educational institution shall be required to receive religious instruction, or take part in any religious ceremony, or attend religious worship, if such instruction, ceremony or worship relates to a religion other than his own."
The Quran also teaches against forcing people of other faiths to become Muslim, Surah Al-Baqarah [2:256] - Al-Qur'an al-Kareem, states: "There shall be no compulsion in [acceptance of] the religion... " However this verse, which is found in the early chapters of the Quran, is often ignored by hardline Muslims. Verses such as Quran (9:29) are used to defend the more aggressive position held by hardliners: "Fight those who believe not in Allah nor the Last Day, nor hold that forbidden which hath been forbidden by Allah and His Messenger, nor acknowledge the religion of Truth, (even if they are) of the People of the Book, until they pay the Jizya with willing submission, and feel themselves subdued." The latest move by the federal government has alarmed the Christian community of Pakistan. Many of them already fear the constant bullying, harassment and attempts to forcibly convert their children to Islam.
A report by the United States Commission for International Religious Freedom in 2011 sheds light on the situation. The report stated: "Religious freedom concerns are also evident in Pakistan’s public schools. Pakistani primary and secondary schools continue to use textbooks that foster prejudice and intolerance of religious minorities, especially Hindus and Christians. Fifth-grade students read official textbooks claiming that ‘Hindus and Muslims are not one nation but two different nations. The Hindus could never become sincere in their dealings with the Muslims.’” Concerns were raised about the national curriculum textbooks of Pakistan that demonise and caricature Christians and other minorities, even going as far as labeling Christians as 'spies for the West'. As if all the above was not enough to discourage Christian parents from sending their children to Pakistani schools, a more alarming statistic is the number of Christian girls being abducted from schools and streets.
In 2014, a report by Muslim NGO 'Movement for Solidarity and Peace in Pakistan' estimated that 700 Christian girls and 300 children from other minorities are kidnapped, raped and forced into Islamic marriage every year. In their report, they describe the manner in which crimes of this nature proceed: "Investigations find that cases of forced marriages/conversions follow a distinctive pattern: Christian girls — usually between the ages of 12 and 25 — are abducted, converted to Islam, and married to the abductor or third party. The victim’s family usually files a First Information Report (FIR) for abduction or rape with the local police station. The abductor, on behalf of the victim girl, files a counter FIR, accusing the Christian family of harassing the willfully converted and married girl, and for conspiring to convert the girl back to Christianity. Upon production in the courts or before the magistrate, the victim girl is asked to testify whether she converted and married of her own free will or if she was abducted. (In most cases, the girl remains in custody of the abductor while judicial proceedings are carried out). Upon the girl’s pronouncement that she willfully converted and consented to the marriage, the case is settled without relief for the family. Once in the custody of the abductor, the victim girl may be subjected to sexual violence, rape, forced prostitution, human trafficking and sale, or other domestic abuse."
BPCA's own investigations reveal that a high percentage of the victims are girls who have been invited out for a day of fun with Muslim friends from school. A trip to the shops and a ‘chance’ meeting with a father or uncle who 'fortunately' has a car that could make the trip easier, leads to abduction and a life of capture and abuse. In many cases, the friend and her mother are complicit and culpable in the crime. Moreover, we believe the figure set by MSP is conservative, with truer figures being closer to 2,000 girls kidnapped per year. Bearing all this in mind, it is no surprise that there is a huge disparity between the literacy and employment attainment of the Muslim majority and the Christian minority. Only 7% of Pakistani Christians attain an adequate level of literacy. 86% of Pakistani Christians work as sewage workers, sweepers, domestic servants or are in bonded labour (a form of modern day slavery). It is estimated that 90% of bonded labourers working in the brick kilns of Pakistan are Christians. A male patriarch will have signed a contract for a loan of £50 to meet a financial need such as medical treatment. When they sign their contract with a thumbprint - illustrative of their illiteracy - they are oblivious that the debt has immediately risen to over £5000, an amount they will never pay off in their lifetime.
In fact, the contract has now established that their wives - who are often raped - their children, and further generations are to be contracted to a life of slavery. This reprehensible 'business' activity continues and proliferates despite Pakistan adopting anti-slavery laws in 1992, the Bonded Labour System (Abolition) Act 1992. Wilson Chowdhry, Chair of the British Pakistani Christian Association, said: "Britain and America plough money into Pakistan, a nation that can only raise a tax from one percent of its population, leading to dependence on foreign aid. Europe has ratified Pakistan's application for Generalised System of Preference status. This means that trade between Europe and Pakistan for certain predetermined items, is now duty free. £225 million pounds of Britain's £445 million budget given to Pakistan last year was allocated towards holistic educational reform. This places Britain internationally as a de facto funder of state-sponsored hatred towards Pakistani Christians. I pray our MP's see sense and either terminate aid to Pakistan, their largest aid recipient, or insist upon improved human rights as a condition for continued funding. Removing this latest risible drive towards compulsory Quranic studies has to be a priority."
He added: "The attempted annihilation of Christians through forced conversion is indicative…(that) Christians are being discriminated and persecuted increasingly through the use of biased legislation and policy. Christians are subjected to many allegations under the blasphemy laws of Pakistan that only protect Muslims. The culture of impunity for perpetrators of violence towards Christians has led to several mob attacks on Christian enclaves, where homes and churches are looted and then razed to the ground. Christians in Khyber Pakhtunkwa are forced to pay Jizya tax (Islamic protection money) to the Taliban insurgents who seem to have a secret alliance with Pakistan's authorities. Moreover, churches and Christians have been targeted; suffering three major bomb attacks in four years," he said.