Protest against Pakistan's blasphemy laws at Scottish Parliament

Reverend Alex Gillies (with loudspeaker) addresses a protest against Pakistan's blasphemy outside the Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh

Speakers from Scotland and abroad condemned the widespread misuse of Pakistan blasphemy laws during a protest demonstration outside the Scottish Parliament on Monday.

The protest demonstration was organised by Global Minorities Alliance, a Glasgow-based human rights organisation set up in January.

The alliance gave a protest call outside Holyrood, the Scottish Parliament following blasphemy-related violence last month that resulted in the torching of about 200 Christian homes in Joseph Colony in Lahore, the eastern city of Pakistan.

Speaking to over 50 demonstrators who turned up outside the Scottish Parliament, Chief Executive of the alliance, Sheraz Khan, condemned Pakistan's controversial blasphemy laws.

He told demonstrators that Pakistan's blasphemy laws assumed a stringent form during the regime of late military dictator Zia ul Haq.

Mr Khan was critical of Pakistan government for its failure to protect the rights of Christians and other religious minorities.

He urged the government of Pakistan to clarify the steps that have been taken to stop the possible future misuse of Pakistan blasphemy laws.

He said the alliance would stage protest demonstrations outside the Scottish Parliament, Northern Ireland Assembly, the Welsh Assembly, the Houses of Parliament in London and outside the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland until it receives a response in writing from the Pakistani government.

Mr Khan said: "We will continue to raise the voice of the persecuted, downtrodden, less-privileged, shirtless and shoeless people around the world."

The Reverend George Fatehdin, team member of Victory Church Glasgow and a member of the Scottish Asian Christian Fellowship denounced the assassinations of Pakistan moderate Punjab Governor Salman Taseer and Shahbaz Bhatti, Federal Minister for Minorities.

The two men were gunned down in March 2011 for their criticism of Pakistan blasphemy laws.

Dr Elham Manea, the alliance's ambassador to Switzerland, addressed the demonstrators via telephone, saying blasphemy laws had been exploited to foster fear, hinder reform, avoid accountability, intimidate critical thinking and settle disputes that have no legal basis.

She maintained: "It does not make any difference, therefore, if we are talking about Egypt, Iran, Saudi Arabia or Pakistan.

"The patterns and the features are all the same just as the consequences i.e grave violations of human rights and denial of equal citizens.

Dr Elham went on to say that Pakistan blasphemy laws were being misused against religious minorities including Christians, Ahmadis and Shia Muslims, usually on flimsy pretexts.

She urged the government of Pakistan to act and protect its citizens.

"Its time to repeal the blasphemy laws. It is time to restore justice", said Dr Elham

The Reverend Peter George Gill of Wallneuk North Church, Paisley, condemned the violence in Lahore last month.

Expressing solidarity with the persecuted Church in Pakistan, Reverend Gill said: "We are the body of Christ, if one part suffers the whole body suffers."

Bishop Kaleem John, who spoke to the demonstrators by phone from Pakistan, condemned the misuse of Pakistan blasphemy laws and urged the government of Pakistan to take measures to stop the misuse of the controversial laws.

Addressing the protesters outside the Scottish Parliament, Reverend Alex Gillies of Victory Church called for the repeal of the blasphemy laws.

He said foreign aid to Pakistan should be stopped in view of the country's treatment of its minorities.

Demonstrators raised slogans: "Stop persecution", "End to religious violence" "Stop misuse of blasphemy laws in Pakistan"

The protesters also sang Psalm 20 to express solidarity with the persecuted church in Pakistan. Ian Stuart, General Secretary of Edinburgh Interfaith Association and Bashir Malik, a Muslim representative of the association were also present at the protest demonstration.