Thursday, September 10, 2009

In the Name of Blasphemy, Pakistani Christians Under Frequent Attack - 14

Bishop John Joseph (1932 - 1998):
A Human Rights Martyr of Pakistan

Bishop John Joseph of the Catholic Diocese of Faisalabad.
He killed himself on May 6, 1998 in front of the Sessions
Court of Sahiwal in protest to the blasphemy laws under
Ayub Masih was awarded the death
sentence on April 27, 1998

Photo Courtesy: //

Bishop John Joseph was the Catholic Bishop of the Diocese of Faisalabad, Pakistan. He was also the Chairman of the National Commission for Justice and Peace (NCJP), the human rights arm of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of Pakistan. Ethnically, he was a Punjabi. He was the first local Catholic Bishop of Pakistan.

A Committed Human Rights Advocate

Bishop John Joseph, a dedicated human rights worker, also called a "human rights activist" by some, was widely respected for his fight for human rights of the minorities of Pakistan, especially the Christians.

He vehemently objected to the introduction of the blasphemy laws by President Zia-ul-Haq and also against the inclusion of one's religious faith in the ID cards, as these would act as a hindrance to the Christian-Muslim dialogue in Pakistan.

Bishop Leads Two Nation-wide Protests in Favour of Religious Minorities

Bishop John Joseph gave leadership in two nation-wide protests of the Christian community in Pakistan.

The first protest was organized in 1992 against the Pakistan government's proposal for inclusion of one's religious faith in the national identity cards. Christians and other minorities were apprehensive that the new ID cards would lead to further victimization of already discriminated religious minorities -- such as, the denial of equal opportunities in employment, promotion in jobs, education, and political representation.

Bishop John Joseph, on his own, went on hunger strike along with about half-a-dozen Christians in a tent in the centre of Faisalabad city. They sang psalms from the Bible and their fast lasted for a week. By this hunger strike he sent a message to the government of Pakistan that the minorities would not react passively to discriminatory laws.

The second protest was in 1994 against the murder of Manzoor Masih. Manzoor Masih, Salamat Masih and Rehmat Masih were accused of writing defamatory graffitti about Prophet Mohammad on a mosque wall at Ratta Dhotran in Gujranwala District. When Manzoor Masih and two other accused came out of the Lahore High Court building after the court hearing on April 5, 1994, three gunmen on motorcycles opened fire at them. Manzoor was killed, while Salamat and Rehmat were injured.

According to the Amnesty International report, "prior to the alleged graffiti incident...Salamat Masih had argued with a neighborhood boy over pet pigeons. The boy then told village elders that he had seen Salamat Masih write on the mosque wall. There appears to have been a history of petty clashes and hostility between Christians and their Muslim neighbours." Manzoor Masih and Salamat Masih were illiterate -- neither could they read or write.

The second protest march started from the Cathedral grounds of Faisalabad and proceeded on to the streets. The protesters, headed by the bishop, protested against the assassination of Manzoor Masih. After the peaceful protest, Bishop John Joseph made three demands to the Faisalabad city authorities: 1) The murderers of Manzoor Masih should be arrested; 2) The blasphemy laws should be repealed; and 3) Christians should be given enough security to exercise their religion.

The Blasphemy Laws of Pakistan

The laws on blasphemy were first incorporated in the Penal Code by the British Government in the undivided India in 1927. Since then until 1986, when several new sections on blasphemy were added in the Pakistan Penal Code, only seven blasphemy cases were filed in the entire region of present Pakistan. After President Zia-ul-Haq's new blasphemy laws were introduced in Pakistan in 1986, more than 25 persons died due to blasphemy accusation and more than 4,000 blasphemy cases have been filed and more than 1,000 persons --- Muslims, Ahmadis, Christians and Hindus -- have been charged with blasphemy.

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