Pakistani Christian leader fights for rights

LAHORE, PAKISTAN :– The Chief of the All Pakistan Minorities Alliance (APMA) has vowed that he will continue struggling for the rights of Pakistani minorities till last drop of his blood.

Shahbaz Bhatti, the APMA Chief, made this statement on Friday, August 10 while talking to ANS by phone.

Bhatti, who was optimistic on the turnout of the rally the APMA is staging in Lahore, the provincial capital of province Punjab of Pakistan on Saturday, August 11, said he was expecting a huge number of people from the minorities communities including Christians, Hindus, Sikhs and Parsees at the rally.

He said members of the minorities’ communities from as far as Karachi, the port city of Pakistan situated in Sindh province of Pakistan, were coming via train to attend what he called a “historical event” in the history of Pakistan’s religious minorities.

People from across Pakistan will come to attend the rally by buses, trains and in the form of caravans, said Bhatti.

“The presence of members of all minorities communities at the rally will dispel impression that the APMA is not a representative alliance of all minorities”, Bhatti said while answering a question.

Referring to the celebrated speech of the founding father of Pakistan, Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah made while addressing the first constituent Assembly of Pakistan on August 11, 1947, in which he talked about religious freedom for minorities communities, Mr. Bhatti said they were going to demand religious freedom and equal rights for Pakistani minorities at the rally.

The demand for religious freedom is one of the cardinal points of the “Charter of Demands”, which, he said, the minorities alliance was going to unveil during the rally.

Asked why the APMA had staged the rally for last few years, he said they had been conducting seminars and conferences during those years in a bid to sensitize minorities of their rights.

He dismissed the notion that pressure from the government or the law enforcement agencies kept them from staging the rallies on August 11 for last few years.
Flaying existence of Pakistan Blasphemy Laws, Shahbaz Bhatti claimed they were the first ones who raised voice against blasphemy laws in 1992.

He went on to say that the APMA organized a conference in Lahore in 1994 to apprise people of the challenges vis-à-vis the blasphemy laws.

Elaborating on the APMA’s 22-year-long struggle for minorities’ rights, he said they opposed tooth and nail the proposed inclusion of religion column in National Identity Cards.

Replying a question he said the APMA had also slammed inclusion of religion column in Pakistani passports.
“We filed a petition in the Apex Court of Pakistan against the inclusion of the column of religion in passports,” said the APMA chief.

The campaign for exclusion of religion column in the passport, he added, ranged from writing letters to the U.N to staging hunger strikes, to protest marches.

Asked how many representatives of APMA will make their way to the National and provincial assemblies in the upcoming general elections, he said: “Our thrust is not on seeing APMA’s representation in the assemblies. We rather want a culture of equality, social justice and freedom to prevail in Pakistan”.

The APMA, he said had blocked a proposed constitutional amendment during exiled Premier Nawaz Sharif’s stint in power in 1998.

“The amendment called 15th amendment would have a negative bearing on the religious minorities. It was an effort to Islamize the country”, he said when asked how the amendment, if made, could have impacted the minorities in Pakistan, a predominantly Muslim country.

Coming hard on MMA-led government in North Western Frontier Province of Pakistan he said they wanted to impose a Taliban-style government through the Hasba Act.

“APMA voiced its concern against the proposed act”, Bhatti informed.

Asked how APMA contributed toward defusing the tension in Charsadda and Mardan after the Christian residents allegedly received threatening letters forcing them to either “convert or die”, he claimed it was APMA leadership and activists, who arrived in the troubled districts of the conservative NWFP province of Pakistan before anyone made their appearance there.

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