The Australian Catholic Social Justice Council (ACSJC) is pleased to share the news that the National Commission for Justice & Peace of the Catholic Bishops Conference of Pakistan (NCJP) has won the 5th Tji Hak-soon Justice & Peace Award.

The award recognizes the NCJP for its dedicated efforts over the last sixteen years to improve the human rights situation in Pakistan. The NCJP has worked in difficult and at times dangerous circumstances to defend victims of unjust laws, and to uphold human rights, by engaging in human rights education and activist training, and by involvement in advocacy activities, said ACSJC National Executive Officer, Sandie Cornish.

When ACSJC member Fr Paul Devitt and I visited Pakistan early this year, we were very impressed by the range of work being done, and the dedication and tenacity of our colleagues at NCJP, she continued.

We are proud to continue to work with the NCJP for the abolition of the Separate Electorates System and for the repeal of the Blasphemy Laws. At this time we are asking the community to take up the cases of Ayub Masih, a Christian, and Dr Younnas Shaikh, a Muslim both have been condemned to death under Pakistan’s Blapshemy Laws, she said.

We have prepared an ACSJC Position Paper on The Death Penalty and the Blasphemy Laws in Pakistan, and shorter action leaflet outlining details of the two cases and actions that can be taken. Both documents are available from our website where they can be downloaded for free, and printed versions can be ordered from our Secretariat ($2 for the eight page paper and action leaflet together), she explained. Pakistan is attracting world attention as it plays an uncomfortable role in efforts to confront terrorism. While international observers are concerned about the impact of religious extremism on the capacity of the State to support the International Alliance Against Terrorism, for ordinary Pakistanis, issues of religious tolerance and the rule of law are more than just a sideshow to international military actions, she said.

Peace and stability in Pakistan will depend on just laws and the upholding of the rule of law. While world attention is focussed on Pakistan, we should not overlook the fate of Ayub Masih and Dr Younas Shaikh, who have been sentenced to death under the vaguely worded and easily misused Blasphemy Laws, she continued.

The fate of two individuals may not seem to be a high priority in the scale of world affairs at the moment, but their plight is illustrative of the struggle for peace, democracy and religious tolerance in the region, she explained.

Communal and religious tensions are fuelled by laws that purport to protect religious belief and practice, but are able to be abused for personal or political purposes. When extremist elements are able to intimidate lawyers and courts, the rule of law is compromised and the use of force prevails. This is not a sectarian question. Both Muslims and members of religious minorities are vulnerable to becoming victims of false allegations. Only extremists benefit from these laws, she explained. The Australian Catholic Social Justice Council is opposed to the use of the death penalty anywhere. We are calling on Australians to ask for the urgent review of the death penalty against Ayub Masih, a Christian, and Dr Younas Shaikh, a Muslim, and for the repeal of the Blasphemy Laws. To help people to take action, the ACSJC has produced an eight page ACSJC Position Paper providing background information about the Blasphemy Laws and the two cases, as well as a brief action leaflet, said Ms Cornish.

If we want a just and peaceful world in which we can live in security and freedom, we must act to promote just laws in all countries and support the rule of law. Violence and hatred flourish wherever there is injustice. At this difficult time for human rights workers in Pakistan, the Tji Hak-soon Award is a symbol of the support of colleagues around the world, she concluded.

For Further Information:

Sandie Cornish
National Executive Officer

Peter Jacob
Executive Secretary, NCJP This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Regina Pyon
Coordinator, Tji Hak-soon Justice and Peace Foundation This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.