1998 NCC News Archives

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NCC General Secretary Writes Prime Minister of Pakistan,
Asks Urgent Attention to Religious Liberty, Tolerance

TO EXPRESS YOUR CONCERN...

Write to:

Mr. Nawaz Sharif
Prime Minister of Pakistan
Fax: 011-92-51-920-3414

With a copy to:

Mr. Riaz H. Khokhar
Ambassador
Embassy of Pakistan
Fax: 202-265-5302

NEW YORK, May 12, 1998 – The Rev. Dr. Joan Brown Campbell, General Secretary of the National Council of Churches, today sent the following letter to the Prime Minister of Pakistan expressing her sorrow at Roman Catholic Bishop John Joseph’s tragic death (see note, below) and asking urgent attention to religious liberty and tolerance.

Mr. Nawaz Sharif, Prime Minister of Pakistan
Your Excellency:

The tragic death of Bishop John Joseph prompts our addressing you with great urgency on the matter of religious liberty and tolerance in your country. Our hope is that we can find ways to cooperate in supporting the efforts of your government to expand religious freedom for all religious communities and to contain and reduce the fanatical acts of religious hostility that may occur in your country or in any country including our own.

The sadness we feel over the death of Bishop Joseph is very real. Yet we also honor him as a witness to the need for genuine religious freedom and the ending of religious hostilities on all sides. It is in our gratitude for his life that we offer the cooperation and support of our churches here and our partner churches in Pakistan and elsewhere. The church in Pakistan is a part of and deeply connected to the world wide Christian community with millions of adherents who also care. We believe there is a growing global realization that violence and repression are incompatible with the core teachings of all religious traditions. Likewise such acts are blots upon the stability and maturity of any nation’s social order.

We are equally concerned with the death sentence given to Ayub Masih, according to reports coming to us, a man medically and emotionally ill as well as innocent of the charges brought against him by religious fanatics under the blasphemy law. We understand he has been deprived of legal help due to threats by these same fanatics against lawyers who might take his case.

In despair over this circumstance and its meaning for Christian people, the lack of legal recourse and inattention to religious persecution issues, we believe Bishop Joseph has offered his tragic witness. He has chosen to sacrifice his life on behalf of religious liberty for all the people of Pakistan.

While we do not believe it is appropriate for the United States to intervene in the religious affairs of Pakistan, we do believe it is right for us religious communities to urge you and your government to address decisively the terrorist and criminal activities of religious fanatics. Specifically we urge your government to:

  • target, identify and publicly denounce fanatical groups opposed to religious liberty for all Pakistanis.
  • Prosecute aggressively fanatical groups engaged in religious persecution and terrorism. Encourage harsh penalties with jail sentences for acts of religious terrorism.
  • Repeal the blasphemy law in order to create fairness and equity for all religious communities.
  • Commute the sentence imposed on Ayub Masih, release him from custody and provide for his safety from his attackers.
    Encourage all clergy to inform their religious followers about the evil of religious persecution and terror and the importance of religious freedom for all the people of Pakistan and of the world.

It happens that Bishop Joseph’s tragic death occurred exactly as we were welcoming Bishop Samuel Azariah, Moderator (Presiding Bishop) of the Church of Pakistan, as a guest here. He came to help us deal with the United States’ role in relation to religious freedom and religious persecution worldwide. You would have been touched and deeply proud of the presentations about Pakistan and the role and place of the Christian community there made by Bishop Azariah.

Basically he helped members of the United States Congress, the Department of State, the National Security Council, church leaders and the public at large through the media and through newspaper editorial board contacts understand three critical points:

  • Christians in Pakistan, though a small minority, are loyal Pakistanis committed to contributing to the upbuilding of Pakistan politically, economically and religiously.
  • Pakistan experiences religious hostilities and even violence, not by government action, or its prompting or even by government inattention or neglect, but due to the fanatical acts of extremist fundamentalist groups.
  • Punitive acts by the United States toward Pakistan (such as termination of aid including military assistance, even limited economic sanctions, etc.) are apt to exacerbate religious violence, encourage fanatical acts and erode international relationships.

I want to confirm the very great importance of Bishop Azariah’s presentations. He confirmed our view that on religious issues of this sort, it is essential that US decisions be informed by the real experiences and insights of religious leaders in the lands alleged by strident religious and political voices here to practice or tolerate religious persecution. We have been opposed to the religious persecution legislation currently under consideration in our Congress.

We believe expanding religious liberty and providing assistance for economic development, health care, education and political stability is the way religious communities will be freed from hostilities by fanatical forces. Bishop Azariah from your land has strengthened us in our resolve.

We offer to work collaboratively for a stronger Pakistan where religious freedom and an atmosphere of tolerance can be experienced by all. We stand ready to be available to respond supportively to your efforts in this regard.

May God’s gifts of wisdom, good health and the continuing strength of leadership be yours in abundance.

Cordially, with our prayers for peace for all,
The Rev. Dr. Joan Brown Campbell
General Secretary

* You can find news about the Bishop's death -- a suicide in protest of Pakistan's blasphemy laws and the sentencing to death of a Christian under those laws -- in most newspapers and news services, including Dawn, "Pakistan's most widely circulated English language newspaper."

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