On 25th February 2018 Mr Samson Javed, president of Pakistan Christian Press Club (PCPC), along with his associates, including Imran Joseph, John Bosco and others, arranged an awareness dinner for the members of the Pakistani background Christians. The evening was dedicated to appreciating the services of Cecil Chaudhry Jr., Executive Director of National Commission for Justice and peace (NCJP) (Pakistan Catholic Bishops’’ Conference) and discussing the situation of minorities in Pakistan. Ms Ruth Cadbury (Labour) MP for Brentford and Isleworth graced the occasion as the Chief guests for the evening where Mr Rodney J. Oliver, consultant for the Oliver and Hasani Solicitors and Mr Morris Johns, researcher and secretary for the All Parties Parliamentary Group (APPG) for Pakistani Minorities were also in attendance.
Nearly thirty members of the Pakistan Christian Diaspora gathered in a local restaurant, The Harlington Tandoori in Southall. The occasion was moderated by Mr Imran Joseph, Mr Samson Javed and John Baso. Several attendees shared their views and concerns about the plight of the minorities in Pakistan. Mr Samson Samuel and Mr John Bosco highlighted the recent case of Patras Masih and Sajad Masih, of Shahdara Lahore, and a lively discussion followed. Patras Masih was recently booked for blasphemy on the flimsy charges of misusing his mobile phone to receive (or share, nobody seems to have bothered to get to the truth of this matter) ‘blasphemous’ messages. Sajad Masih (Patras’s cousin) almost lost his life when he jumped from the fourth floor of a building to escape the torture and humiliation inflicted upon the pair by the police and FIA authorities. Sajad is in a hospital struggling for his life. The news has created a storm on the social and international media channels, but has not been reported on any of the national TV channels from Pakistan. The world of course still waits to see the justice being done to Asia Bibi, an illiterate Christian woman, who is languishing behind bars since 2009. She was charged with blasphemy for a squabble with a Muslim woman over a cup of water. While Asia Bibi is still alive, but not well in prison, Pakistan has lost two of her very high profile politicians for publicly declaring their support to seek justice for her. Governor of the Punjab, Salman Taseer, was gunned down by his own body guard Mohammad Qadri on 4th January 2011, while less than two months later, Shahbaz Bhatti, the Christian Federal Minister was shot to death in his car on his way to his office on 2nd March 2011.
Speaking on these matters Mr Qamar Rafique, along with a few other suggestions presented the idea initiating Shahbaz Bhatti Memorial lectures to keep the mission and the vision of the late martyr alive and fresh on yearly basis.
Ms Ester Das, after narrating the recent atrocities suggested the formation of a forum where youth from minorities can find catharsis for their pent up emotions and problems. A suggestion that was well received by the group, and made note of by Mr Chaudhry. Mr Cecil Chaudhry, Junior presented a comprehensive overview of the NCJP’s work, which was founded by catholic Bishop John Joseph in 1984. The Bishop struggled for the rights of the oppressed minorities and fought for justice and peace all his life, but then on 6th May 1998, when he confronted the impossible task of achieving these desired ends, he committed a protest-suicide in front of the court room in Sahiwal.
Mr John Bosco stated that the injustices and atrocities continue as was recently evidenced by the release of sixteen men accused of murder in the Mishal Khan lynching case. The facts of the matter were not vindicated, but the political strength did a Maulana Samiul Haq was able to save his sympathizers from the clutches of the law.(Mishal Khan was lynched for alleged blasphemy on 13 April 2017, in Abdul Wali Khan University, Mardan, Pakistan).
Chaudhry explained that NCJP focuses on areas of research, advocacy and provides awareness and empowerment to the poor and the venerable. It also engages in the provision of legal and para legal aid to victims of hate crimes as well as those who are targeted because of their different faiths. He stressed that a major problem in Pakistan is of the non-acceptance of other faiths. In 1984 a martial law dictator introduced blasphemy laws to strengthen his own grip on the masses, but now their fair enforcement has become a challenge to every successive government.
NCJP has eight offices in Pakistan (head office in Lahore). It has 38 staff members and 150 volunteers; Muslims, Ahmadis, Hindus, Christians, Baha’is and others. As an organization it has had some successes, the notable ones being waging a successful campaign against Bonded Labour, opposing inclusion of a column for religion on Pakistan’s National Identity Cards (ID cards), and the restoration of joint electorate system for the minorities in Pakistan. Chaudhry said that they have had modest success but a lot more needs to be done. He stated that he lives by a quote which he often heard his father use as a moto for his own life: ‘By faith I am a Christian but my religion is humanity’.
Ruth Cadbury, MP for Brentford & Isleworth, in her short speech appreciated the work that was being done by the members of the Pakistani background Christians in the UK. While sharing her thoughts about the way forward for helping the minorities in Pakistan she promised to join APPG for Pakistan minorities, and to support it in any way possible.
Shaheen Zar asked Mr Chaudhry about how we, the members of the Christian Diaspora, can support the work of NCJP in Pakistan, and Samson Javed requested Mr Chaudhry to kindly convey the message to all our people back home that we are fighting for their cause the best we can here. In fact, it is not their cause, but our cause, just as much if not even more so. We think about our Christian brothers and sisters all the time and that this meeting is but just one example of the type of activities we constantly engage in to highlight the plight of minorities in Pakistan in front of UK authorities. Akhtar Injeeli, also brought to the attention of the attendees that when Pakistan was created in 1947, the history records a presence of minorities at 23%, however, the current reports put the same number at or below five percent. The question needs to be asked, what has happened to the minorities in Pakistan? Where have they disappeared? The others who actively participated in the debate and discussion were, Thomas Sohtra, Edgar Money and Suleman Akhtar.
In the end Councillor Morris Johns, researcher for and the secretary of All Parties Parliamentary Group for Pakistan’s minorities, thanked the attendees and the guests. The meeting ended with a dinner and exchange of pleasantries.
© Akhtar Injeeli 04/07/2018