by Shafique Khokhar
An amendment to a 2001 ordinance threatens to multiply cases of illegal occupation. Christians, Sikhs and Hindus worried about their historic places of prayer. Civil society and religious leaders are calling for the restitution of stolen property.
Lahore (AsiaNews) – Human rights activists and lawyers and religious leaders are asking the government to protect the communal property and places of worship belonging to minorities. The appeal came on September 23 during a conference organised by the Center for Social Justice (CSJ), during which participants dennounced that an amendment to the 2001 Ordinance on the Protection of Community Property risks multiplying cases of illegal occupation of property belonging to minorities.
Christians, Sikhs and Hindus fear that proposed changes to the law will deprive them of valuable historical property. According to Peter Jacob, director of the SECJ, the repeated attacks on sacred places cause great suffering and social unrest.
Historian Yaqoob Khan Bangash emphasised the social value of the common property of minorities, which should be safeguarded from corruption, the ‘land mafia’ and the government itself. Albert David, member of the Commission for Minority Rights, expressed the same view, calling for a total ban on the sale of community property. Humphrey Peters, Protestant bishop of Peshawar, on the other hand, pointed out that the rights of minorities are explicitly protected by the Pakistani Constitution.
In addition to blocking parliamentary approval of the amendments to the 2001 ordinance, the conference rapporteurs call on the authorities to take action to ensure that illegally stolen property is returned to the affected minorities.
The government should also act to address religious intolerance and ensure protection for minorities, as stipulated in a 2014 Supreme Court ruling.
According to various sources, Ahmadis, Christians, Hindus, Sikhs and Shiites are the most discriminated against minorities in Pakistan, a country of 212 million people, most of whom are ethnic Punjabis and Sunni Muslims.