Pakistani Episcopate Speaks Up for Women's Rights

And Calls for Respect of Religious Minorities, in a Letter to Government

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LAHORE, Pakistan, NOV. 23, 2004 ( The president of the Pakistani bishops’ conference appealed to the government to make 2005 the «year of change in which anti-women and anti-minority legislation is repealed.»

In an open letter addressed to President Pervez Musharraf and to Prime Minister Shuakat Aziz, Archbishop Lawrence Saldanha of Lahore expressed the episcopate’s appreciation for the government’s attempts to make Pakistan a country where the principles of social justice and peaceful coexistence are evident.

However, the archbishop also pointed out the challenges facing Pakistan on issues that affect human rights, the text emphasizes, according to the Fides agency.

Acknowledging the positive fact of the abolition of the electoral system based on religious membership — previously, each religious group elected its own representatives in Parliament — Archbishop Saldanha noted instead that the modification must also be applied in local representative bodies in the provinces.

The letter called special attention to so-called honor killing of women accused of adultery, still in force in Pakistani legislation.

The archbishop lamented that Parliament did not take into account the recommendations made by civil and religious entities in regard to the situation of women, who have in general called for a change in the law.

The law «reduces woman to a legal entity» and does not persecute those who are guilty of violence against women in domestic and social life, the archbishop said. Moreover, the law has produced difficulties for religious minorities, he added. Pakistan is 97% Muslim.

The letter also called for the abolition of the blasphemy law, which provides for life imprisonment for anyone who offends the Koran, and the death penalty for an offense against the prophet Mohammed.

The law has often been used to settle private scores or to persecute Christians. Being «unjust and discriminatory,» it should be abolished, Archbishop Saldanha urged.

The letter was also written on behalf of the bishops’ Justice and Peace Commission, which long has tried to defend the rights of minorities, women and marginalized groups.

Archbishop Saldanha ended his letter by assuring President Musharraf of «the active cooperation of the Catholic Church» in the building of a free, democratic and peaceful nation.

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