We have been so busy we have not even had an hour to blog. Blogging has become addictive too – every time we have a spare couple of hours we think – time to blog! ( only seven days ago, I had blogged for the first time too).
Our flight from Karachi to Lahore was uneventful – except it was an hour late and we had to watch some unusual television in the airport lounge. We were met by Daniel at the airport, who took us to the Bishop’s Guesthouse at Raiwind Diocese. It has been a very comfortable place to stay, and we have been well looked after.
Again we have so many things to do, we just don’t have time to fit them all in. On Saturday, we went to see Michelle Chaudhry, the daughter of Cecil Chaudhry and a good friend of the late Shabhaz Bhatti. Shabhaz Bhatti was the Minister for Minority Affairs in the government of Pakistan, until he was shot dead leaving his mother’s house in March this year. The police are investigating his assassination, but have yet to arrest anyone in connection with this crime.
It was great to meet Michelle, and to hear of her passionate concern for Christians as minorities, although she explained that she did not like this word, as Christians and people of other faith groups have the same rights to be a citizen of Pakistan as Muslims. There is now no Federal-level Minorities’ ministry, but a new post has been created – the Ministry for National Harmony. Akram Gill is the new minister, and Paul Bhatti ( brother of Shabhaz) is adviser to the President of Pakistan on National Harmony.
One of the biggest issues right now is the Blashphemy laws – especially Sections 295-B and 295-C that were added dduring the military regime of General Ziaul-Haq about blasphemy against the Quran and the prophet. Of particular concern in recent weeks have been two cases involving children in schools. In one instance, an 8 year old girl had misspelt a word by putting a dot in the wrong place in her school work. She was arrested and charged with blasphemy. A charge of blasphemy can by brought by any individual against another, and sometimes the law is invoked to settle a dispute about land or a personal emnity – rather than it really being about a religious issue. This leaves the blasphemy law open to be abused. Michelle and many others whom we have met over the last week, would like to see the blasphemy law ammended so that it is not so easy to use for the wrong reasons. Ideally it would be good not to have the law at all, but at least if there is an ammendment that removes Sections 295-B and 295-C this would help in the meantime.
Michelle spoke of the great friendship between her family and the Bhatti family, and her deep sense of saddness at Shabhaz’s untimely death. Shabhaz Bhatti had been threatened and received death threats a number of times, but he felt it was important to continue to work for Minorities, and to speak out on behalf of Christians – see video below to see what Shahbaz said before his death. She, like many others in Pakistan, wants to continue this work. One of the ways that she would like to do this, is through a new project called Iris Foundation. This foundation is named after Michelle’s mum Iris, who passed away last year. It embodies Michelle’s passion to change lives for the better especially for religious minorites by empowering them to enter mainstream society, and to have confidence to live with dignity and self-respect. She wants to change the mindset of Christians from being fearful and thinking that they don’t matter, to being empowered to claim their rights, to speak out and to work towards a better future.
Michelle quotes the words of Mohammed Ali Jinnah from a press conference on 14th July 1947 in New Dehli in which he stated:
” minorities to whatever community they may belong, will be safeguarded. Their religion, faith or belief will be secure. There will be no interference of any kind with their freedom of worship. They will have protection with regard to their religion, faith, their life or their culture. They will be in all respects, citizens of Pakistan without any distiction, caste or creed. They will have their rights and privileges and no doubt, along with it, goes their obligation of citizenship.”
Mr Jinnah’s vision of Pakistan, was one of religious equality, justice and the rule of law, but it disintegrated with his death. The question for today is whether Pakistan can afford not to ammend the blasphemy laws, if it is to be a country of justice and equality.
Michelle spoke with an infectious drive and eloquence about many connected issues, and gave us permission to share what she said on this blog.
We ask that you remember Michelle, her father ( who is in hospital just now), Paul Bhatti and all those many Christians seeking to work in this sensitive and difficult area in the life of Pakistan, in your prayers. Please pray for God to watch over the Christian community, and to help them to find a way of being in the midst of great pressure and uncertainty and fear.
Thank you for reading this blog – and for your prayers!