Pakistani civil society rejects government’s allegations against Catholic-rights group

Aftab Alexander Mughal   By Aftab Alexander Mughal for CNA


Members of the faithful attend an Easter Sunday Mass at the Sacred Heart Cathedral in Lahore, Pakistan, on April 17, 2022. A July 2022 report from the Center for Social Justice discussed the issues of blasphemy laws, forced conversion, and biased school curriculum for religious minorities in the country. / Photo by ARIF ALI/AFP via Getty Images

Blackburn, UK, Aug 31, 2022 / 12:20 pm (CNA).

Christian, Hindu, and Muslim members of civil society in Pakistan have strongly rejected the government’s allegations against the Center for Social Justice (CSJ), a Catholic-rights body based in Lahore, the capital of Punjab province. The organization has been working for the rights of religious minorities through research and advocacy work.

The government of Pakistan maligned the CSJ for “alleged anti-state propaganda” by submitting a human-rights report in July to the United Nations Human Rights Council for Universal Periodic Review (UPR). The fourth review of Pakistan is due in January and February 2023 in Geneva, Switzerland.

A news item appeared in Daily Jang, a widely-circulated Urdu-language national newspaper on Aug. 21 that said the CSJ’s report is not based on reality and against the interests of Pakistan. The interior ministry has ordered the Punjab provincial government to take action against the organization.

However, Peter Jacob, head of the CSJ, denied the allegations and said that the report reflected the ground reality about freedom of religion in Pakistan.

Jacob, a lay Catholic and human-rights defender, told CNA that this development showed the patron of state’s behavior toward the civil society. Historically it has not been easy to raise the voice for human rights in the country, but for the last few years, the situation has become more difficult as the civil society organizations work under constant pressure.

“We haven’t stopped our work, and so far we haven’t received any notice from the government, but we will use our legal rights if the government tries to pressurize us,” Jacob said.

The CSJ’s report was endorsed by nine Pakistani human-rights organizations, including the National Commission of Justice and Peace of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Pakistan.

The report has discussed the issues of blasphemy laws, forced conversion, biased school curriculum, and delayed formation of national commission for minorities, and made concrete and workable recommendations for the government.

Civil society organizations have shown full support to the CSJ. On Aug. 22, the Joint Action Committee for People’s Rights (JACPR), Lahore — a major coalition of 37 civil society organizations — said in a statement that the issues covered in the CSJ’s report have been widely discussed in the courts, parliamentary bodies, and media in the country.

The JACPR said that the government could constructively consider these recommendations to resolve the longstanding issues of human rights.

For the UPR, the government is supposed to submit its own report in October so it can respond to the issues raised or even act to resolve them to seek credit during the UPR session next year. However, according to Irfan Mufti, convener of JACPR, if the incidents of violence in the name of religion continue, the government will be held answerable at all competent forums.

“We also reiterate that vibrant participation of civil society organizations improves views about Pakistan, and its engagement helps improve the conditions for its people. Whereas, living in a state of denial will impede the resolution of these longstanding issues,” Mufti said.

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