Religious Rights and Riots in Pakistan

September 25, 2023

Pakistan-Flagmap, via Wikimedia Commons

The Human Rights Lab at Albion College has had the opportunity to interact with human rights practitioners around the world, helping to build an international network of advocates and scholars. Paria Anjum Rajput is a student at our fellow Global Liberal Arts Alliance school, Forman Christian College, in Lahore, Pakistan. She is a guest writer for our blog, and in this post she describes a human rights violation that has recently impacted her community, and what we can do to help.

By Paria Anjum Rajput ’26

Minority rights are under attack in Pakistan. Despite international and national protections, religious minorities have been targeted.

Pakistan’s population is 96% Sunni or Shia Muslim, and Christians make up only 1.6%.

On 16 August 2023, numerous Christian families were forced to flee their homes when a Muslim mob attacked the Pakistani town of Jaranwala, a known Christian neighborhood. The mob, consisting of hundreds at its peak, was formed in response to allegations that two Christian members of the community committed blasphemy against the Holy Quran.

According to Pastor Javad Bhatti, he was woken on August 16th by the mosque’s loudspeaker calling people to protest against the alleged blasphemy.

After hearing the call, “he gathered his family and ran to the street, where fellow Christians were already spilling from their homes into narrow alleyways. ‘Some were running barefoot and some fled in rickshaws. There was chaos everywhere,’ he told AFP on Thursday.”

AFP (Agency France-Presse, the oldest news agency in the world) was informed that more than 300 people fled during the early hours of the attack, but hundreds more left later that night and the next day.

During the attack, “at least four churches and a dozen houses and shops had been burned and ransacked.” Other sources have those numbers even higher.

Pastor Bhatti’s home was among the ones targeted. He shared, “‘My own house was destroyed. This was our entire life’s earnings. Now how will we live here again?’”

The destruction in Jaranwala is truly heartrending. While images could not easily be included in this blog post due to copyright laws, an online search of the instance reveals many pictures of the destruction. One image that has gone viral is of a young Christian boy consoling his mother.

Currently, action is being taken in response to the violence. According to Human Rights Watch, “the police have arrested 130 people alleged to have been involved in the attacks.” In addition to arrests, religious and political leaders from different religions, sects, and parties are calling for a joint investigation into the incident and for the government to work towards reconstructing houses and churches.

Unfortunately, August 16th is not the only example of persecution against minorities. Other instances include (but are not limited to) Shanti Nagar in 1997, Sangla Hills in 2005, Gojra in 2009, Joseph Colony in 2013, Lahore in 2016, and now Jaranwala in 2023. More needs to be done to prevent further persecution.

Declarations and Laws

Ensuring the security of minorities is essential for upholding human rights and promoting social harmony, and there are systems in place designed to do so.

Article 2 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights underscores the principle of non-discrimination, emphasizing equal protection under the law. Safeguards for minorities’ rights are also included in the Declaration on the Rights of Persons Belonging to National or Ethnic, Religious, and Linguistic Minorities as well as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, particularly Article 27.

The Constitution of Pakistan, in Article 25 (1), guarantees that “all citizens are equal before law and are entitled to equal protection of law,” where “adequate provision shall be made for the minorities to freely profess and practice their religions and develop their cultures.” And Article 33 declares that it is the state’s responsibility to “discourage parochial, racial, tribal, sectarian and provincial prejudices among the citizens.”

How to Combat Religious Persecution

There are steps one can take to combat religious persecution and the violation of minority rights.

  1. Encourage and elevate the views of religious authorities, human rights campaigners, and those who support religious liberty. Protect and support those who actively fight against religious discrimination in their communities.
  2. Encourage religious leaders to condemn religious discrimination and spread tolerant messages inside their congregations. Encourage collaborations between leaders of various religions to combat persecution.
  3. Address the underlying factors that contribute to religious persecution, such as poverty, a lack of education, and political unrest. To ease conflicts, encourage economic development and access to education.
  4. Launch media initiatives that promote religious freedom and raise awareness of the effects of religious persecution. Highlight tales of resiliency and cooperation among persecuted religious communities via social media channels. Promote tolerance and support through working with influencers, religious leaders, and celebrities.
  5. Promote cultural exchange initiatives that enable dialogue and mutual learning between those with various religious origins.

These initiatives can reduce obstacles, eliminate preconceptions, and foster respect for one another.

Protecting minorities’ rights is a crucial cornerstone of human rights. The guarantee that every person is treated with dignity and respect, regardless of their religion, ethnicity, or cultural identity, is the very essence of a just and inclusive society. Defending minority rights is more than just a legal requirement; it is a moral duty to follow the values outlined in human rights texts such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

The contribution of various voices to the fabric of our shared humanity is ensured by such protection. By valuing and embracing our diversity, we pave the way for a more peaceful and just society in which minority rights are not only upheld but also cherished.

Paria Anjum Rajput, ’26 is a Political Science major and criminology minor at Forman Christian College Lahore, Pakistan. She has a passion for human rights and is also involved in different kinds of social work.

The views expressed here represent those of the author and not necessarily of Albion College.