Religious Liberty Partnership presses Pakistan on rights of Christians

The RLP have also called upon the government of Pakistan to renew its commitment to reforming the country's notorious blasphemy laws and work towards their abolition.

In a statement issued following the death of Pakistani Minorities Minister Shahbaz Bhatti, "The Virginia Statement on the Islamic Republic of Pakistan," also called upon Pakistan's government "to establish a judicial inquiry and public report into the murders of Shahbaz Bhatti and Salman Taseer".

Further recommendations include the implementation of international standards of non-discrimination based on race, religion and gender as outlined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the opportunity for all non-Muslim students to study a faith of their own choice rather than the imposition of Islamic education.

Despite the murders of Shahbaz Bhatti and Salman Taseer the RLP, recognises the Pakistani coalition government's statements condemning acts of senseless violence and the stance of President Asif Ali Zardari in declaring that, "We will not be intimidated nor will we retreat."

"These recent high profile assassinations underscore an intense upswing of new and false charges of blasphemy against minorities, as well as violence targeting Christian villages and churches," said Ann Buwalda, Executive Director of Jubilee Campaign USA.

"We must work cooperatively with Muslim leaders and Christian leaders in Pakistan to oppose extremism and encourage the rebuilding of a tolerant and hospitable society where citizens of all religions have an equal participation."

In the Virginia Statement, the RLP applauds the work of the church around the world, including the several dioceses of the Church of Pakistan, which has generously given humanitarian relief, disaster aid, assistance to displaced people, and practical assistance to victims of recent natural catastrophes in various parts of Pakistan.

After more than a decade of leading efforts by the OrganiSation of Islamic Conference to pass 'Defamation of Religions' resolutions at United Nations, Pakistan took the lead in proposing a new resolution which more closely reflects international law on freedom of religion and freedom of expression."

Ronald Boyd-MacMillan, of Open Doors International said: "Pakistan's beleaguered Christians have rarely felt so demoralised in the wake of Shahbaz Bhatti's murder.

"May this statement galvanise the world wide Church to pray and act in greater solidarity with these precious Christians, and be such an unforgettable encouragement to them that they will never feel alone in their suffering again."