Pakistani Archbishop says his country’s blasphemy laws do not protect Christian minorities

By David W. Virtue

It should have been a slam-dunk; but at the last moment, delegates to the ACC-15 failed to pass a resolution deploring persecution. It was sent back to the resolutions committee to perfect language that would call on each communion province to contact directly their government’s diplomatic agencies and representatives of the Pakistani government in their countries in order to express their concerns.

Pakistan’s Anglican Archbishop Samuel Azariah made an impassioned plea to pass a resolution saying that his country’s blasphemy laws, while protecting Islam and the prophet, do not protect Christian minorities.

“We are recognized by the Anglican Communion worldwide yet we see abductions, forced conversions, and forced marriages from religious minorities groups.” He described the blasphemy laws as “notorious” and said the blasphemy laws carry a mandatory death sentence.

“Pakistan Christians are facing serious threats to their [very] existence. It is not just human rights but the issue of existence. I say it with pain that is what we are facing. I call on the ACC to deplore these actions and I call on the government of Pakistan to stop it.”

“I think you are assured of a positive outcome of this resolution,” ACC Chair and Diocese of Southern Malawi Bishop James Tengatenga told Archbishop Samuel Azariah, moderator of the Church of Pakistan and bishop of Raiwind, as the council applauded loudly.

Azariah had moved the resolution; saying he did so, standing before the council, “in pain and in agony.”

Archbishop Ikechi Nwachukwu Nwosu of the Province of Aba, Church in Nigeria, said most of the words of the resolution could apply to Christians in the northern part of his country. Nwosu and the other Nigerian ACC members recently called for prayers, fasting and other support of religious minorities in that country.

Archbishop Thabo Makgoba of the Anglican Church of Southern Africa urged passage of the resolution saying that “part of our communion is hurting and if that part is hurting, we are all hurting.”

The resolution, he said, “requires us in a tangible way to express what it is to be communion.”

Diocese of Ceylon Bishop Dhiloraj Canagasabey said “hundreds of thousands of Pakistanis” are coming to Sri Lanka because they have been tortured, had their homes burned down or they have escaped abduction attempts.

“This needs to stop. Important organizations of the world, including the ACC, must take this seriously and show the solidarity,” he added.

Dr. Rowan Williams said, “passing the resolution not only expresses support for Christian and religious minorities. It is all about minorities expressing their support for all those elements in civil society in Pakistan who are struggling for some kind of open democratic polity. It is very important that activists and advocates should hear that we are supporting them as well.”

The Archbishop of Canterbury suggested that the members ought to agree that in addition to standing by religious minorities, “we’re [also] expressing support for all those elements in civil society in Pakistan who are struggling for some kind of open democratic polity,” especially “those of the legal world who are increasingly going public with their discontent.”

Williams also said he had heard some members suggesting a more general resolution about persecution of religious minorities because “we have a number of instances of persecution of Christians arising in several contexts around the communion.”


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