On behalf of Philadelphia’s Pakistani Catholic community, Archbishop Charles Chaput encouraged the Pakistani prime minister to shape a culture of religious freedom in the country.
“I urge you to make every effort to secure the full rights of Pakistan’s citizens of every religion. And please understand that I will be pressing this issue vigorously in the American public square on behalf of Philadelphia and other Pakistani Catholics,” the Archbishop of Philadelphia wrote on January 21 to Imran Khan, prime minister of Pakistan.
The letter, published in First Things, highlighted the Pakistani Catholic community in the Philadelphia area, whom Archbishop Chaput said “are grateful for their Pakistani heritage” and “whose Catholic faith was nourished in Pakistan.” He added, however, that “the hardships now faced by Christians in Pakistan profoundly concern them.”
The archbishop encouraged Khan to “work urgently to assure true religious liberty for all citizens of Pakistan, especially for members of minority faiths.”
Pakistan’s state religion is Islam, and around 97 per cent of the population is Muslim.
The country was designated, for the first time, a “Country of Particular Concern” in December 2018 for its religious freedom record by the US Department of State. The designation had been recommended by the US Commission for International Religious Freedom in 2017 and 2018.
Archbishop Chaput noted that despite this designation, Sam Brownback, US ambassador at large for religious freedom, had in February 2019 “indicated that your nation shows a sincere ‘desire to change’ for the better on this issue. I thank you for your willingness to pursue that positive change.”
“I believe in the honest intentions of many in the Pakistani government to assure full religious freedom for their nation. But Pakistan still does not fully protect the religious liberty of all of its citizens,” the archbishop pointed out.
He cited reports that religious minorities in Pakistan face “chronic hostility, harassment, and persecution,” and that the government “seems to do little to ensure their personal safety and their full participation in public life.”
This situation, he said, is both unjust and it “aggravates misunderstandings and resentments of Islam among American Christians and other concerned U.S. citizens.”
Archbishop Chaput noted in particular the abuse of Pakistan’s blasphemy laws; economic inopportunity for religious minorities; and attacks on minority houses of worship.
Pakistan’s blasphemy laws impose strict punishment on those who desecrate the Quran or who defame or insult Muhammad. Although the government has never executed a person under the blasphemy laws, accusations alone have inspired mob and vigilante violence.
The laws, introduced in the 1980s, are reportedly used to settle scores or to persecute religious minorities; while non-Muslims constitute only 3 per cent of the Pakistani population, 14 per cent of blasphemy cases have been levied against them.
Many of those accused of blasphemy are murdered, and advocates of changing the law are also targeted by violence.
Citing such problems, the archbishop said that “a reform of Pakistan’s blasphemy laws, and its investigation and prosecution procedures, is thus urgently needed.”
Turning to economic problems, he said that the government has long “promised to provide quotas for public and education sector jobs for Christians and other religious minorities … but such promises have not been fulfilled, and members of religious minorities in Pakistan still face job and opportunity discrimination.”
In 2013 the then-governing party, the Pakistan Muslim League (N), promised a quota for jobs in the educational institutes and the public sector for members of religious minorities. The Pakistan Peoples Party discussed an Equality Commission to monitor job quotas in Sindh.
Both parties are now in the opposition in the national parliament, and the proposed safeguards have not been put into action.
Finally, Archbishop Chaput said, “police too often fail to protect non-Muslim sacred spaces,” which have been frequently attacked.
“Little effort is made to prosecute and bring to justice the perpetrators of this religious hatred,” the archbishop stated.
“I do believe in the good will of many citizens of Pakistan and many members of your government,” Archbishop Chaput told Khan.
“I also know that Pakistan faces many economic and social challenges, and you have the difficult task of managing them. I respect the demands of your office, and I gladly pray for both justice and success in your public service.”
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