Hundreds of Islamic clerics sign declaration against killing in the name of religion

A man walks past a wall of a shipping container's yard painted with a national flag ahead of Pakistan's Independence Day.Reuters

Over 500 Islamic clerics in Pakistan have signed a declaration against killing and violence in the name of Islam.

The 'Islamabad Declaration' was signed in the Pakistani capital last week during a conference organised by the Pakistani Ulema Council, AsiaNews reports.

The declaration says that murders carried out 'on the pretext of religious belief' are 'against the teachings of Islam'.

The clerics went on to declare that all people of faith have the right to live in Pakistan according to their religious beliefs.

'It is the responsibility of the government to ensure protection of life and property of non-Muslims living in Pakistan,' the document reads.

They also proclaimed 2019 as the year to 'annihilate terrorism, extremism and sectarian violence from Pakistan' as they reiterated that 'non-Muslim citizens must enjoy the same rights as everyone else'.

Human rights activist Sabir Michael welcomed the declaration, telling Fides news agency: 'We appreciate and acknowledge the efforts of the Pakistan Ulema Council (PUC) to stop extremism and contribute to tolerance, peace, justice and equality in society. It is necessary to promote and spread this message to the communities.

'In the past, solemn declarations such as this, are not very successful, now the government and religious communities must work together in this direction - let us not lose hope for the good of the country.'

The declaration is an unexpected voice of support for Pakistan's religious minorities after months of tension and unrest following the acquittal of Asia Bibi, a Christian woman freed from eight years on death row for blasphemy last November.

The declaration says that her case, which is now under review again in the courts, must be heard as a 'priority'.

Her acquittal was followed by violent protests across the country in which radicals called for her execution to be carried out. They also called for the death of the judges who exonerated her.

The threat of death forced Bibi and her family to go into hiding as soon as she was released from prison.  Although she has requested asylum from a Western country, an offer has not yet been made.

The Pakistani government has since brought terrorism charges against the leader of the Tehreek-e-Labbaik (TLP) party, Khadim Hussain Rizvi, who orchestrated the protests against Bibi's acquittal.