The human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell has spoken out after the Pakistan government announced further restrictions on Christians’ civil liberties.
Pakistan’s education minister, Mohammad Balighur Rahman, has said that Koranic education will be compulsory for all schoolchildren.
Tatchell, a veteran activist best known as a gay rights campaigner, said: “This is the latest escalation of the country’s bias against Christians, other minority faiths and non-believers.”
He argued that the British government “should make overseas aid to Pakistan conditional on Islamabad’s protection of the human rights of Christians and other minorities.
“If Pakistan’s rulers do not comply, the UK should switch aid from the government to NGOs that do not discriminate.”
Tatchell was speaking in the wake of a report from the British Pakistani Christian Association (BPCA), which detailed the many hardships Pakistani Christians face. These include frequent violence and prosecutions, as well as the kidnapping and forced marriage of Christian girls.
BPCA estimates that 86 per cent of Pakistan’s Christian population work as sweepers, domestic servants, or sewage workers, or in bonded labour – a form of modern slavery.
Tatchell said the BPCA’s report “reveals shocking inequalities, disadvantages and outright oppression of Christians and other minority faiths in Pakistan, such as Hindus and Sikhs. Atheists, secularists and humanists are also persecuted.
“Pakistan is a member of the Commonwealth. By failing to ensure equality for Christians, other non-Islamic faiths and non-believers, Pakistan is in breach of its human rights obligations under the Commonwealth Charter, as well as under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.”
Earlier this year, Tatchell said the prosecution of two Northern Irish Christians for refusing to bake a cake with a pro-gay marriage message was “a step too far”.
Wilson Chowdhry of the British Pakistani Christian Association said the new requirement to learn verses from the Koran “is the latest of many instances where Islam is privileged and people of other faiths or no faith are disadvantaged or discriminated against.
“For example, 15 per cent of blasphemy allegations are laid against Christians who only make up 1.6 per cent of the population. This is evidence of their pariah status.”
Chowdhry echoed Peter Tatchell’s call for British government action. “Britain and America plough money into Pakistan,” Chowdhry said, noting that “£225 million pounds of Britain’s £445 million budget given to Pakistan last year was allocated towards holistic educational reform.
“This places Britain internationally as a de facto funder of state-sponsored hatred towards Pakistani Christians. I pray our MPs see sense and either terminate aid to Pakistan, their largest aid recipient, or insist upon improved human rights as a condition for continued funding.
“Removing this latest risible drive towards compulsory Koranic studies has to be a priority.”
Chowdhry pointed out that Pakistan’s constitution forbids religious indoctrination of non-Muslims. It states: “No person attending any educational institution shall be required to receive religious instruction … if such instruction, ceremony or worship relates to a religion other than his own.”