Archive for June, 2021

Pakistan – improvement in the rights of religious minorities under Imran Khan’s government, 2018-2020

June 3, 2021
There are 2-3 million Pakistani Christians, about 1.3% of the country’s population.

Network for Religious and Traditional Peacemakers

Webinar: Protecting the Rights of Religious Minorities in the Age of COVID-19

with Minister Ijaz Alam Augustine,

Provincial Minister for Human Rights and Minorities Affairs in Punjab, Pakistan.

28th May, 2020 – notes by Usama Hasan

Minister: 

  1. We have been in power for 2 years.  In Punjab [Pakistan’s most populous province, with over half of Pakistan’s population of approximately 220 million people], we have achieved gains for minorities that had not happened in the previous 70 years. [In 2019, Pakistan celebrated 72 years since Independence.]

  2. The new Government of Punjab introduced a Minority Empowerment Package within its first 100 days. This has now been passed.  It addresses the following:

    • Education – access to universities, where there is a 2% quota for minorities.

    • Prisons – reprieve for inmates if they turn to religion & reading scripture, on a par with Muslims.

    • Hate speech – control of.  This is prevalent in Pakistan: incitement of religious hatred.

    • Previously, religious subjects were Islamic Studies only.  Now, 60% is ethics & 40% according to one’s own religion, eg Bible for Christians, Gita for Hindus, Granth for Sikhs.

    • Religious tourism: our religious heritage was neglected for 70 years, including religious tourism & pilgrimage.  Eg St. Thomas, disciple of Jesus, settled in Taxila for a while.  Some 200-year-old churches had fallen into disrepair. These are now being repaired and maintained.

    • Jobs for minorities – we have a 5% government jobs quota for minorities, secured by the previous minister Shahbaz Shareef, but this was not being fulfilled.  But minorities are not achieving university degrees (cf. 1 above).

  3. Punjab, most populous province in Pakistan, is the first to achieve this milestone of 2% quota for religious minorities in HE & 5% in government jobs.  Other provinces are following example set by Punjab.

  4. In Punjab, we set up a board to remove religious hate speech from our educational textbooks.  The hate speech was leading to many blasphemy cases also being brought against people from religious minorities.

  5. Punjab was the first province to set up a high-level commission on forced conversion to Islam, especially of girls for marriage. The Federal government followed us to set up a national mechanism.  The commission assesses whether a person is mature enough to change religions, especially for marriage, and whether the conversion is forced or of a free will.

  6. Many forced conversions happened in underdeveloped, underprivileged, slum-like areas.  We set up a ‘modern village’ in Christian-dominated Yuhannabad, population 300,000.  This will eventually become a modern city. Funds have been earmarked for roads, water, sanitation, etc.

  7. The funds for this development were doubled by Imran Khan’s government from Rs. 500 million [£2.5 million] to Rs. 1 billion [£5 million].

  8. After Imran Khan’s government released Asia Bibi, we have reduced the current blasphemy cases from hundreds to 20-25 only.  This is by introducing safeguards against frivolous blasphemy cases that were increasing before in number.

  9. With help from the EU, we have improved our human rights record.  We have district-level human rights committees now, including minority representation, to assess local human rights issues.  This was part of the agreement for GSP+, a trade agreement between the EU and Pakistan.

  10. When we have cases of religious discrimination reported, I visit the place personally.

  11. Pakistan has about 40 24/7 Christian TV channels, unregistered with the regulator PEMRA.  But the government has never taken any action against them.

  12. These are some of our achievements & humble contributions in Punjab.  This government has another 3 years, so we hope to achieve more by the grace of God:  reduce discrimination & hate-speech, improve tolerance and create a more harmonious society.

  13. We think the Marrakesh Declaration is a great resource.  We wish to have a major interfaith conference in Pakistan.  We proposed an interfaith forum in Punjab, which is in the process of being legally registered, & to have a major interfaith dialogue conference in Lahore.  Our interfaith policy is being developed, influenced by the Marrakesh Declaration, with the input of religious minorities.

  14. The Imran Khan government announced that all nationalised religious schools would be returned to the respective religious minorities. This includes the Ahmadis.

  15. There is a current blasphemy case involving Ahmadis – we are dealing with it sensitively.

  16. Covid-19 & religious minorities: there was some scapegoating of the Tablighi Jamaat early in the crisis – they were accused of having brought covid-19 to Pakistan and spread it here.  But this scapegoating was quickly eliminated – we have no concept of majority/minority with regard to covid, since we are all in this together.

  17. With covid, our curve in Pakistan is still rising and has not flattened yet. We are keen that structural discrimination against minorities is not increased or enhanced because of the covid crisis.

  18. Regarding women’s and youth empowerment, our work on higher education covers some of that.

  19. We have also offered 5,000 people (60% youth, 40% women) via 177 training centres in Punjab, free skills development & professional/technical training programme, with a sufficient monthly stipend of Rs 2,000 [£10].  We then provide them with Rs. 500,000 [£2,500] grant each for business start-up, entrepreneurship & development.

  20. Sadly, no Christian organisation or country has contacted us about St. Thomas’ heritage in Pakistan, eg Taxila & for the last 72 years: there has been no major contact from the Vatican or Church of England.  In contrast, embassies of Buddhist-majority countries have helped to fund the preservation of Buddhist sites.
Pakistan’s flag: the green represents the country’s Muslims, whilst the white strip on one edge represents religious minorities.