Archbishop Charles J. Chaput sent the following letter to Prime Minister of Pakistan Imran Khan this morning.
January 21, 2020
Prime Minister Imran Khan
Care of the Embassy of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan to the United States
3517 International Court NW,
Washington, DC 20008
Many Pakistani Catholic families currently live in the Greater Philadelphia region. They are a great blessing to our community. These are very impressive people, grateful for their Pakistani heritage, whose Catholic faith was nourished in Pakistan. However, the hardships now faced by Christians in Pakistan profoundly concern them. On their behalf, I write to you—as their local archbishop, but also as a former Commissioner with the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF)—to ask that you work urgently to assure true religious liberty for all citizens of Pakistan, especially for members of minority faiths.
Pakistan is one of 10 countries listed by the U. S. Department of State as a “country of particular concern” for violations of the religious freedom of its citizens. Happily, last year, Ambassador Samuel Brownback, U.S. ambassador at large for religious freedom, after a meeting with Pakistan’s foreign ministry, indicated that your nation shows a sincere “desire to change” for the better on this issue. I thank you for your willingness to pursue that positive change.
I believe in the honest intentions of many in the Pakistani government to assure full religious freedom for their nation. But Pakistan still does not fully protect the religious liberty of all of its citizens. I know from numerous reports by Pakistani Catholics in the United States that Christians and other members of minority religions in Pakistan face chronic hostility, harassment, and persecution. Yet the government seems to do little to ensure their personal safety and their full participation in public life.
This is not just unjust, Mr. Prime Minister; it also aggravates misunderstandings and resentments of Islam among American Christians and other concerned U.S. citizens at a very sensitive political moment.
Of particular worry—as I’m sure you’re aware—is that Pakistani Christians are vulnerable to the misuse of blasphemy laws and are at risk of false accusations and wrongful criminal prosecution. Neighbors can settle ordinary disputes by leveling a charge of blasphemy against a Christian citizen who is then arrested and jailed. Even worse, the charge of blasphemy can sometimes lead to a mob attack on the one accused, and violence against that person’s family and property. Those falsely accused of blasphemy have been murdered with little serious effort by the government to bring such killers to justice. A reform of Pakistan’s blasphemy laws, and its investigation and prosecution procedures, is thus urgently needed.
Regrettably, evidence shows that members of minority faiths do not share fully in the economy of Pakistan. For many years, the government has promised to provide quotas for public and education sector jobs for Christians and other religious minorities. In 2013 a specific such commitment was made. But such promises have not been fulfilled, and members of religious minorities in Pakistan still face job and opportunity discrimination.
Finally, Christian and other non-Muslim houses of worship, as well as homes and businesses, have many times been attacked and destroyed. This is repugnant in any civilized society. But police too often fail to protect non-Muslim sacred spaces. And little effort is made to prosecute and bring to justice the perpetrators of this religious hatred.
Mr. Prime Minister, I do believe in the good will of many citizens of Pakistan and many members of your government. I also know that Pakistan faces many economic and social challenges, and you have the difficult task of managing them. I respect the demands of your office, and I gladly pray for both justice and success in your public service.
Nevertheless, I urge you to make every effort to secure the full rights of Pakistan’s citizens of every religion. And please understand that I will be pressing this issue vigorously in the American public square on behalf of Philadelphia and other Pakistani Catholics.
Most Reverend Charles J. Chaput, O.F.M. Cap.
Archbishop of Philadelphia
Charles J. Chaput, O.F.M. Cap., is the archbishop of Philadelphia and a former Commissioner (2003-06) with the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom.
Photo by Stephan Röhl via Creative Commons. Image cropped.