Pakistan Conference Call with UK Minister and UK High Commissioner about UK Nationals caught in the the Coronavirus Pandemic; about the murder of a transgender 15-year-old Christian; about a plea to Imran Khan to free Shagufta Kauser and non violent prisoners in Pakistan prisons; and about the scapegoating of religious minorities.
This morning – April 9th – there was a very constructive conference call with Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon, the Minister of State at the Foreign Office, and Dr.Christian Turner CMG, the UK High Commissioner in Islamabad, about the current situation in Pakistan.
I have been in touch with the Minister twice in the past few days – about a murder in Faisalabad and about a letter to Imran Khan calling for the release of non violent prisoners like Shagufta Kauser and raised this during the Call.
We also discussed a disturbing and tragic report of a Christian boy who has fallen victim to a brutal rape culture. A 15-year-old Christian transgender was kidnapped, raped and then murdered in Faisalabad.
Mr Khalil Tahir Sandhu (pictured below, visiting the grieving relatives)is the Legal Counsel acting on behalf of the victim’s family and has reported that the culprits are running freely in the streets and that the Government of Pakistan has failed to take timely action.
The Minister promised to take up these cases with the Pakistan authorities to ensure that they bring the murderers to justice and to raise the continued incarceration of prisoners – like Shagufta Kauser – jailed for non- violent crimes.
I expressed condolences with the family of Shabnum Sadiq – the mother of five, and local councillor in Slough, who died of Coronavirus after travelling to Pakistan for a wedding – and asked what help is being given to her family. The Minister promised to schedule a call with the family’s MP.
The High Commissioner says that there are 4,000 known cases of Coronavirus with Pakistan about three weeks behind the UK on the spread of the virus.
I had asked how many UK citizens are still stranded in Pakistan and was told there are probably about 20,000 in the country.
The High Commissioner said that he and his staff are working around the clock to reach the most vulnerable, to arrange travel to the three hub airports of Islamabad, Karachi, and Lahore and that 14 flights have brought 5,000 people home and flights are scheduled to bring back another 3,000.
I suggested that some of the £340,000 we give to Pakistan each day in overseas aid and should be used for the care of UK citizens who remain in Pakistan or to help with their repatriation rather than telling them to take out loans. The Minister promised to raise this with the Department for International Development.
I also expressed my concern about attempts in Pakistan to blame religious minorities – such as the Shia – for the spread of Covid19 and urged the Foreign Office not to lose sight of the plight of minorities in the country who can so easily be scapegoated and, even in the best of times, are subject to persecution.
(David Alton: Lord Alton of Liverpool is Co Chair of the British Parliament’s All Party Group on Pakistan Minorities and Vice Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Pakistan).
Concern over reports that religious minority groups from around the world have faced discrimination because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
USCIRF (08.04.2020) – The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) today expressed its concern over reports that religious minority groups from around the world have faced discrimination because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Religious communities have been harassed and accused of bringing COVID-19 to their countries.
“COVID-19 does not discriminate based on religion or creed,” noted USCIRF Chair Tony Perkins. “Around the world, individuals of every faith and every denomination have been infected. It is time to stop scapegoating religious minorities – as we have witnessed by the Chinese Communist Party – and instead unite against this pandemic.”
In many countries, governments have failed to protect vulnerable religious communities. In particular, Muslims in India and Cambodia as well as Shi’a Muslims in Pakistan have faced increased stigmatization in recent weeks because some of the earliest patients to test positive for COVID-19 in those countries came from these communities. In addition, local authorities in South Korea have filed lawsuit against the Shincheonji Church, alleging that it undermined public health measures, even though the Ministry of Health and Welfare stated publicly that the church has cooperated with the government’s efforts.
“Governments around the world are undoubtedly busy responding to the public health crisis, but they still have an obligation to respect and protect religious freedom, especially for minority communities during and following this crisis,” USCIRF Vice Chair Gayle Manchin added.
In its 2019 Annual Report, USCIRF noted an increase in discrimination against certain religious minority groups, and recently released a factsheet about the effect of COVID-19 on religious freedom. USCIRF has called on all governments to release religious prisoners of conscience during the pandemic because of the heightened risk of infection in prisons.
The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) is an independent, bipartisan federal government entity established by the U.S. Congress to monitor, analyze, and report on threats to religious freedom abroad. USCIRF makes foreign policy recommendations to the President, the Secretary of State, and Congress intended to deter religious persecution and promote freedom of religion and belief. To interview a Commissioner, please contact USCIRF at firstname.lastname@example.org or Danielle Ashbahian at email@example.com.