Page 4, 5th December 2003

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Page 4, 5th December 2003 — Italian court
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Italian court

Lifeline for Pakistani Christians revokes ban

Government Ministers and European Union are moving to end persecution, reports Bess Twiston Davies

FOREIGN MINISTER Jack Straw and a phalanx of eminent politicians have pledged to defend the rights of Pakistan's Christians.

Mike O'Brien. Minister for Trade Investment and Foreign Affairs, is also supporting a campaign to protect Christians living in Pakistan's North West Frontier, which is expected to impose Shariah Law.

Nasir Saeed from Claas, the Centre for Legal Aid and Assistance, a London and Lahore-based organisation supporting Pakistan's Christians. alerted politicians to the plight of Christians there.

He has received positive responses from MEPs Glenys Kinnock and Claude Moraes.

Mr Straw said he had "raised concerns" over the plight of Pakistan's troubled Christian minority in meetings this year with President Pervez Musharref of Pakistan. "We continue to take every appropriate opportunity, including with our EU partners, to urge Pakistan to pursue laws and practices which foster tolerance and mutual respect, and to protect religious minorities against discrimination, intimidation

and attacks," he said in a letter to MP Brian Mawhinney in response to a letter from Mr Saeed.

Mr O'Brien said he had discussed the matter with the Pakistani High Commissioner in London, while Mr Moraes said he had submitted a parliamentary question to the EU Commission to "press this matter further".

He said: "This situation is deeply troubling and I wholly understand your anxiety. The suppression of individuals' freedom to practise their religion is a violation of human rights and breaches the fundamental ideals of democracy."

Mrs Kinnock said: "The EU is calling for more protection for Christian and other minorities in Pakistan. We are aware of incidents involving the Christian community which have occurred over the last two years. The EU has also reiterated its concerns about the blasphemy laws, which have been disproportionately applied towards religious minorities."

Mr Saeed said the letters reflected a greater awareness of the problems faced by Pakistani Christians, who have been attacked during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan for their perceived associations with

the West.

He said: "There is a sense that things arc moving. If the

EU has submitted a question about this it means the world is more aware, that it knows that Christians are being persecuted and that this needs to be solved and that this is now on a wider scale.

"An EU delegation went

to Pakistan in October and

they raised these matters on October 21st in Islamabad. "The matter has been also discussed with the Pakistani Government, the Pakistani High Commission. Mike O'Brien is going to Pakistan this month and we've written him a letter and are going to

ask MPs to write to Mike

O'Brien to raise the matter so that it goes on his agenda.

"Pakistani Christians living in the country can't raise their voice themselves but when this issue is raised by outside Governments it is taken into consideration."

He added: -The Pakistan

government is going to take things seriously. It is a matter of its image. Already it has a very bad image because of terrorism and is embarrassed by questions from the EU and British Government, its allies against terrorism with the West and the US."

Members of Claas will meet Immigration Minister Beverley Hughes next month_




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