“History teaches that political pluralism and political freedoms can only be achieved if the first step is that of religious pluralism. The most important of freedoms is that of the manifestation of one’s own religious thought” stated Member of the Italian Parliament Andrea Del Mastro Delle Vedove.

The Italian Parliament in Rome, provided the backdrop for a press conference on the persecution of Christians in Pakistan. It is important to note that Rome is also the City which hosts the Vatican, home of Pope Francis and the Catholic Church. The world has become more aware of the targeted abuses being perpetrated against religious minorities in Pakistan, and in particular against members of the Christian community. The acquittal and release of Asia Bibi, a young Christian mother held in Pakistani custody and imprisoned on death row for eight years has also gained much international attention for the cause.

“In addition to the National Day against the Religious Persecution of Christian Minorities in the World, we want Italy in all fora where bilateral treaties with Pakistan are discussed to call for the abolition of the blasphemy law or, at least, the elimination of the death penalty for this crime,” explained Mr Delmastro. He also said that there is a need for coordination with the European Union, with which Islamabad has already signed very beneficial exchange agreements, including those related to trade.

The event was held specifically to inform the media of the seriousness of the increasing levels of abuse against Christians in Pakistan and was hosted by SOS Christians of the East with the institutional support from the Italian Parliament Inter-parliamentary Group for Christians in the World, headed by the Honourable Member of the Italian Parliament, Andrea Del Mastro delle Vedove. The Press Room of the Chamber of Deputies also welcomed as speakers, Henri Malosse, 30th President of the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC), the European institution responsible for civil society based in Brussels; Paul Bhatti, Pakistani doctor and politician, brother of Shabbaz Bhatti the former Pakistan’s Minister of Minorities, who was killed in 2011; and Arthur Lanternier, Head of Mission at the SOS Christian East Foundation in Aleppo, Syria who is responsible for Cooperation and Development.

Asia Bibi was the victim, like many others in the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, who was accused and sentenced to death through the use of Pakistan’s draconian blasphemy law. The purpose of blasphemy laws in Pakistan is to protect Islamic authority. According to the Pakistani constitution (Article 2), Islam is the state religion, with more than 96% of Pakistan’s 167 million citizens (2008) identifying as Muslims. This has made it difficult for other religions to co-exist in Pakistan. Among countries with a Muslim majority, Pakistan has the strictest anti-blasphemy laws.

Henri Malosse, who had been working for many years on the issue of trade relations in Brussels, highlighted the inconsistencies of the European Union trade policies in protecting its founding principles of human rights, democracy and freedoms.

“For 10 years the European Union has had a privileged relationship with Pakistan on trade, despite not respecting the fundamental rights of all religious minorities, in the Pakistani Constitution there are articles but they are not applied and the European Union continues to trade without any monitoring and control,” explained Malosse.

Pakistan is a recipient of the prestigious Generalised Scheme of Preferences (GSP+) which requires the country to ratify twenty-seven core international conventions, including human rights, political rights and freedom of thought and religion. However, Malosse stated that Pakistan was violating multiple aspects of many of the conventions, including the persecution of religious minorities. Malosse proposed that the European Commission, through pressure from the European Parliament and the Italian Parliament, should suspend the privileges until Pakistan complies with the criteria and standards established in the terms of the agreement. “The Commission often says that Pakistan is saying that it is creating laws and national committees for the protection of minorities, but in reality these laws are neither implemented nor funded – We need to move beyond nice words and smiles.”

This sentiment was also expressed by Paul Bhatti, sharing his own experience in Pakistan. By his report, it was a lack of knowledge and education that fuelled such ignorance and hatred of many Muslims towards other minorities. Bhatti has travelled around Italy recently to raise awareness of the case of Asia Bibi, and to denounce the actions of the Pakistani Government and its blasphemy laws.

Bhatti reiterated the importance of intervening in the education of children, without which the effects of any legislative change would be worthless. Bhatti spoke of school children who are educated and incited towards the hatred against Christians, and of some mosques led by extremist Imans that even promote an ideology which seeks to radicalise the younger population. For this reason he said it is also necessary to increase inter-religious dialogue with the many Muslims who want to pacify the country and who are fighting against fundamentalism.

“By my commitment in the field of education” stated Bhatti “is the need to block that type of school where the message of hatred is instilled, where children grow up with the idea of killing and dying”. In his concluding remarks Bhatti called for the protection of all religious minorities: Christians, Hindu, Sikh, Sufi and Ahmadi Muslims, clarifying that changing the law is important but of little use if there are still individuals ready to kill because they believe that killing is the right thing, because it is their duty to kill non-Muslims or die for this ideology.

Arthur Lanternier presented a summary of projects carried out by his humanitarian organization in Pakistan: “our goal as a foundation SOS Christians of the East is based on three main pillars. The first is to recreate a lost bond with the Christians of the East. The second is to work on the roots of these peoples and third is to ensure that they can become independent and thus work on economic development.” SOS has three main projects in Pakistan. The first is in a village in the southwest of Faisalabad, where the NGO acquired a large plot of land in front of a church and where families who have been saved from slavery and forced labour will be able to live. SOS is planning to build 500 houses offering accommodation to families. The second project is in Karachi, south Pakistan where they are working with His Eminence Joseph Coutts to rebuild two churches. The third project is located in Arshalabad, and is centred on economic development and the creation of work spaces and facilities so that these families saved from slavery can work on their own and to make sure that they do not lose their jobs.

In closing, Member of the Italian Parliament Andrea Del Mastro delle Vedove confirmed that there would be three concrete steps to be taken by the Italian Parliament in respect to protecting Christians in Pakistan – a resolution calling for an end to the blasphemy laws in Pakistan, a call for the European Union to establish a Commission for Christians in the world, and a request for an international day recognising the Christians facing persecution in the world.

Source : https://eptoday.com/italian-parliament-posed-to-issue-a-resolution-on-pakistans-blasphemy-law/