By Jawad Mazhar, BosNewsLife Special Correspondent reporting from Pakistan
LAHORE, PAKISTAN (BosNewsLife)– Pakistan’s Minister of Minorities Affairs, Shahbaz Bhatti,has launched a public campaign aimed at annulling controversial blasphemy legislation amid concerns Thursday, February 12, over Islamic extremism against Christians and other minorities in the country.
Bhatti made the announcement shortly after protesters surrounded a Pakistani courthouse and chanted death threats against a Punjabi Christian peace activist who was allegedly framed for sending a “blasphemous” text message last month on his cell phone. Shahbaz Bhatti
Hector Aleem, who is in his 50s and director of a Christian rights group, was detained last month shortly after a local man allegedly complained to authorities of sending the message on his cellphone.
His 24-year-old daughter Mehvish said in published remarks that a mob, including Muslim clerics, went to a local court late January demanding he be handed over to them so that they can put him to death.
It came shortly after police raided Aleem’s house in the city of Rawalpindi at 1:30 a.m local time on on January 22, and allegedly assaulted him, his wife and his two daughters, according to his family.
They also stole 50,000 Pakistan rupees (US$630) worth of valuables and broke pictures of Jesus hanging on their walls, the Center for Legal Aid Assistance and Settlement (CLAAS) said. At a February 2 hearing at an anti-terrorism court, Judge Sakhi Mohammad Kohut exonerated him of blasphemy charges but did not clear him of abetting, apparently under pressure of clerics.
He was believed to be behind bars Thursday, February 12, at Adiyala Jail in Rawalpindi pending further investigations. Although five other Christians accused of blasphemy were released last month, Aleem’s case underscored concerns that many others and even Muslims, still face persecution.
Minister Bhatti, a Christian, told BosNewsLife that even at universities and other education institutions Muslims get often higher marks than Christians. “I want to ensure Christians get the same marks as Muslims at the time of admission for professional institutes, such as medical and engineering universities and colleges,” he said.
“Just as Muslim student get 20 grace marks for knowing the Koran, Christians students with Biblical knowledge should also be given 20 grace marks at the time of admission to professional institutes.”
Bhatti suggested that blasphemy laws have been used to settle personal scores in this predominantly Islamic nation and said he wants Christian journalists and lawyers to help him overturn the legislation by influencing public opinion.
“Christian journalists and lawyers can play a vital role in abolition of black Blasphemy Laws and other discriminatory laws, legislated to let down Christians of Pakistan”, he said at a news conference in the town of Lahore.
Even Muslims suffer under the blasphemy laws, rights groups claim. Last month five members of the Ahmadi community, a Muslim minority considered heretical by other Muslims, were reportedly detained on charges of writing offensive words about Muhammad in the latrines of a mosque in the village of Chank of Punjab province.
Among those detained were reportedly three 14-year old boys, a 16-year old and a 45-year-old man. At least 266 members of Ahmadi community were allegedly arrested since blasphemy legislation was introduced in Pakistan in 1986.
Bhatti, who also leads the advocacy group All Pakistan Minorities Alliance, said there were some positive developments, including the government’s decision to to induct senators from Christian and other religious minorities, although the five senators are less than the nine he had requested.
He said he managed to achieve a five percent quota for Christians in all government jobs.
In addition plans are underway to improve the life of residents in Christian slums located on government owned land. He said residents would receive key facilities, including natural gas deliveries, sewage systems, telephone and Internet.