Time To Give Pakistan the South-African Treatment
by Enza Ferreri
It may seem an unlikely possibility, now that the Islamic world is demanding sharia, in the shape of anti-blasphemy laws, to be imposed all over the globe and Muslim Baroness Warsi, newly-appointed Minister for Faith (i.e. Islam) in the UK government, has signed during the UN recent meetings a surreal agreement between the UK, that old -- and now former -- defender of democratic freedoms, and the OIC (Organisation of Islamic Cooperation) pledging that the UK and the OIC will "work together on issues of peace, stability and religious freedom", but sometimes attack is the best form of defence.
South Africa was isolated by the international community due to its apartheid policy, which put pressure on Pretoria and played a role in ending the apartheid. The British Commonwealth, of which the country was part, turned out to be particularly important in this process.
During the apartheid, the British felt particularly responsible for what they believed to be South African discriminatory policies because of the strong ties the UK had with that country through the Commonwealth, the international organization that comprises almost exclusively Britain’s former colonies.
In 1958 the African National Congress made an appeal for international solidarity. The Christians and other non-Muslim minorities in Pakistan may be too demoralized and terrorized to even ask for outside help.
I am not here making comparisons between Pakistan and South Africa, which since the end of the apartheid seems to have deteriorated.
The only leaf I am taking out of the South African book is the way international repudiation of a regime or treatment considered as odiously unfair can be an effective weapon against it.
Pakistan, another member of the British Commonwealth, has already been suspended from the Commonwealth twice: in 1999 after Musharraf seized power in a coup, and in 2007, because of its imposition of emergency rule, until “full restoration of fundamental rights and the rule of law“, for its "serious violation of the Commonwealth’s fundamental political values.
Isn’t Pakistan’s treatment of its Christians “a serious violation of the Commonwealth’s fundamental political values”?
The Constitution of Pakistan (PART III, Chapter 1) says: “A person shall not be qualified for election as President unless he is a Muslim of not less than forty-five years of age and is qualified to be elected as member of the National Assembly.”
In addition, the Constitution (PART VII, Chapter 3A) rules that non-Muslims cannot be judges in the Federal Shariat Court, which has the power to abrogate any law considered un-Islamic.
At least since the 1990s, we have started to learn how Pakistani Christians suffer the worst forms of discrimination only because of their religion.
The infamous Pakistani blasphemy law mandates that anyone who offends the Quran must be punished, even with the death sentence.
A 1998 United Nations document on “Prevention of Discrimination against and the Protection of Minorities”, mostly concerned with Pakistan, says: “The use of an accusation of “blasphemy” -- an ill-defined term which can be expanded to mean anything that any accuser dislikes -- merits serious attention. Some accusations of “blasphemy” can be ill-disguised death threats - as was the case in 1994 regarding the United Nations Special Rapporteur for the Sudan, Mr. Gáspár Biró - and when they are not, they can be considered as sufficiently dangerous to lead to kowtowing, and even censorship at the United Nations”.
Since 1994, Amnesty International has been calling for a change in that law because it is used as a tool against religious minorities:
AI is concerned that a number of people facing charges of blasphemy, or convicted on such charges have been detained solely for their real or imputed religious beliefs. Most of those charged with blasphemy belong to the Ahamdiyya community but Christians have increasingly been accused of blasphemy, among them a 13-year-old boy accused of writing blasphemous words on the walls of a mosque despite being totally illiterate. The following case histories are supplied: Anwar Masih, a Christian prisoner; Arshad Javed, reportedly mentally ill, sentenced to death; Gul Masih, a Christian, sentenced to death; Tahir Iqbal, a convert to Christianity, died in jail while on trial; Sawar Masih Bhatti, a Christian prisoner; Dr Akhtar Hameed Khan, Muslim social activist; Chand Barkat, a Christian acquitted of blasphemy but continuously harassed; Hafiz Farooq Sajjad, stoned to death; Salamat Masih, Manzoor Masih and Rehmat Masih, three Christians.”
In 1996, another Christian, Ayub Masih, was incarcerated in solitary confinement for two years, convicted of blasphemy and sentenced to death in 1998 due to a neighbour’s accusations that he supported Salman Rushdie, author of The Satanic Verses. Eventually his lawyer proved that the accuser had used the conviction to force Masih's family out of their land and take control of the property.
It is supposed to be in connection with this episode that the Pakistani Catholic Bishop John Joseph killed himself in 1998 to protest the blasphemy laws, for the repeal of which he had been campaigning. Before his death, Bishop Joseph had publicly declared that the charges against Ayub Masih were false, and fabricated to force 15 Christian families to drop a local land dispute with Muslim villagers.
Since then the story has just been a repetition of many similar cases, so much so that even homosexual and human rights activist Peter Tatchell – not exactly a friend of the Church – has condemned persecution of Christians in Pakistan, and the Pakistan United Christian Welfare Association has demanded a separate province in Pakistan to protect the country’s around 2.8 million Christians from persecution.
One of the most recent horrors is that of the 11-year-old Christian girl threatened to be burnt alive by a Muslim mob for another false “blasphemy” accusation, while her family and several other Christian families were driven out of their homes in terror.
And Hindus are also an oppressed minority in Pakistan.
The UK’s National Secular Society, whose president Terry Sanderson said: “There is certainly a need for some kind of inter-religious understanding among OIC member states, a number of which suppress Christianity and other religions in a brutal and merciless fashion”, may also be in favour of pressure brought on Pakistan, which is certainly one of the most serious offenders among the OIC’s member states Mr. Sanderson is referring to.
Other campaigns of international political, financial, economic, cultural and sporting sanctions against Pakistan should also be conducted, as they were against South Africa.
South Africa’s bans from sporting events were employed as an effective instrument of pressure, and so could be banning Pakistan from Commonwealth Games, Cricket World Cup, and the like.
Enza Ferreri is an Italian-born, London-based author and journalist. She has been a London correspondent for several Italian magazines and newspapers, including Panorama, L'Espresso, La Repubblica.