Netherlands hears plea to grant Pakistani Christians special status

Published 07 March 2014
(AP)
Pakistani Christians chant slogans during a protest to condemn a suicide bombing on a church, in Peshawar, Pakistan, the deadliest attack ever in the country against members of the Christian faith.

Members of the British Pakistani Christian Association (BPCA) were in the Netherlands this week to ask for greater efforts to protect persecuted Christians in Pakistan and make it easier for them to receive asylum in the country.

The BPCA held a meeting jointly with the Middle East Forum for Development on the human rights situation of minorities in Pakistan.

The meeting was chaired by MP Pieter Omzigtz of the Christian Democrats Party and those present included Michiel Servaes of the Labour Party and Joël Voordewind of the Christian Union, which last year appealed to the Dutch government to offer Pakistani Christians and Ahmadis special status because of the persecution they are experiencing.

The Dutch government has offered this status to the Ahmadis but not to Pakistani Christians. The Christian Union is appealing this decision and expects an answer by June.

During the meeting on Tuesday, genocide expert Professor Desmond Fernandes warned that the situation of minorities in Pakistan was getting worse.

"If you look at the situation in 2013, atrocities against minority groups, including Christians substantially, has actually increased," he said.

Fernandes is even more worried after the recent ruling by Pakistan's Federal Sharia Court, which specifies that life imprisonment does not suffice as a punishment for blasphemers and that only the death penalty should be permissible.

"This suggests that there are specific directions and orders from the highest level, suggesting that the situation is just going to increase in terms of deterioration of circumstances for Christians and certainly for a lot of others," he said.

Christians account for less than 2 per cent of the Pakistani population and are routinely harassed for their faith. Human rights group blame much of the persecution on the blasphemy laws, which carry a death sentence.

Although no death sentence against a Christian has ever been carried out, the appeals process can take years, during which time the accused remains behind bars. Asia Bibi, a Christian mother of five, has been in prison for the last three years awaiting the outcome of an appeal against her death sentence for blasphemy.

Persecution against Christians includes rape, murder and violent attacks.  A suicide bombing at a church in Peshawar last year killed dozens of Christians. 

The severity of the persecution has pushed many Pakistani Christians to seek refuge in other countries.

Chairman of the BPCA Wilson Chowdhry said that a special status for Pakistani Christians would make the asylum process in the Netherlands "more bearable" for them.

He challenged the Dutch government to engage more strongly in dialogue with Pakistan.

"Dialogue is essential to creating a fairer society in Pakistan. Areas of Pakistani law infringe on international human rights, this is replicated in the constitution of Pakistan. The Government of Netherlands provide £7million aid to Pakistan and this should be used as a tool to lever change," he said. 

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