Page 2, 9th May 2003

9th May 2003
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Page 2, 9th May 2003 — Bishops silent as Christian torture victims sent home
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Bishops silent as Christian torture victims sent home

BY BESS TWISTON-DAVIES

A CHRIS' IAN asylum seeker whose finger was sliced off by rnuslim extremists in his native Pakistan has been sent home to face danger, and possible death.

Naeem Pasha, 40, fled to Britain with letters from his church explaining his life would be at risk if he returned because of Pakistan's blasphemy laws, which cant' the death sentence.

But now the Home Office has ordered him home, and has since refused asylum to three more persecuted Christians from Pakistan. Meanwhile, it has granted asylum and benefits to at least 14 Taliban fighters.

"We have written to the Immigration Minister Beverley Hughes and have had no reply," said Mr Saeed, a spokesman for CLAAS, the Centre for Legal Aid and Settlement, a charity helping Pakistani Christians.

He spoke just days after the Bishops' Conference of England and Wales issued a document urging "swift, efficient and humane, treatment for asylum seekers".

However, the bishops and their advisers refused to intervene on behalf of the persecuted Christian asylum seekers. "It is not for the Bishops, Conference to argue for special rights for Christians," said Jesuit Fr Frank Turner, adviser on international affairs. "We are very aware of this problem and we are in dialogue with CLAAS and the bishops in Pakistan. But rash advocacy here could have a difficult affect in Pakistan."

John Joseet, policy adviser on migration added: "We support individual cases but do not want it to appear a great religious crusade because there are other religious minorities too in countries like Palcistanit is very problematic. We know there is persecution but whether it is state-sponsored is debatable as the constitution does not allow persecution of Christians.

"It is more a case of societal persecution to which the Pakistani state turns a blind eye. We know there are cases of houses of Christians being burnt, and people stoned while the police do nothing. We don't want to be seen as championing Christians wherever. The bishops' conference has a remit to society as a whole."

Brother Timothy Gardner, a Dominican expert on Pakistan, said Britain had a reputation in that country for failing to support Christians needing help.

"Generally Pakistani Christians found the Germans, the Scandinavians and even the Austrians with Jorg Haider in power much more helpful," he said. "I don't know why Christians and churches art not more supportive of Pakistan's Christians, whether people regard this cause as old-fashioned or imperialistic to be concerned about one's co-religionists."

He added: "Nobody has been executed judicially in Pakistan for Blasphemy. But basically, if the courts don,t kill you, somebody else will. There will be an imam in some mosque saying that you are an enemy of Islam and that people have a duty to kill you. This won't be true of the majority of mosques. and there is good Muslim-Christian dialogue going on but them are lots of cases of 'extrajudiciary executions'."

Neville Kyrke-Smith of Aid to the Church in Need UK said: "It would be easier for all of us to blame politicians for these problems than do something about it ourselves. In some circles, it is not seen as appropriate to talk about violence against Christians today because it is seen as `divisive'."




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