Pakistan's minority Christian community leaders have demanded an inquiry into the alleged poisoning of nine Christian nurses by their Muslim colleagues at a government-run hospital in Karachi.
Earlier this week, nine Christian nurses fell sick after drinking tea which they claim had been poisoned at Karachi's Civil Hospital. The nurses alleged they were deliberately poisoned by their colleagues because of their faith.
Some leaders of Pakistan's Christian community suggested that the nurses were given poisoned tea because they were not fasting during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. However, Pakistani officials have denied the claims.
Former religious minorities minister Shahbaz Bhatti was killed for speaking against blasphemy law
"The government has turned a blind eye to the persecution of minorities," Michael Javed, a Christian and former member of the provincial assembly told the media. "Our girls are being (forcibly) converted and our churches are being attacked," said Javed, who has demanded an impartial judicial inquiry of the incident.
Rights organizations report widespread legal and cultural discrimination against minorities in Pakistan.
Last week, a 20-year-old Hindu boy, who goes by the name of Sunil, was shown being officially converted to Islam on a live TV show aired by the ARY Digital, a private TV channel. It was a special live transmission marking the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. Though the conversion of Hindus and Christians is not a new phenomenon in the Islamic republic, it was the first time it was presented live on TV in Pakistan and some observers speculated that he was forcefully converted.
Abdul Hai, official of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, said the poisoning of Christian nurses was not an isolated incident.
"A large number of nurses are Christians and are (already) subjected to ill-treatment and prejudice (in Pakistani hospitals)," he told the media.
Pakistani state and minorities
Irfan Mufti, a human rights activist, told DW that it was the responsibility of the state to protect and safeguard the rights, lives and dignity of all its citizens, including minorities.
"In Pakistan, the state has miserably failed to fulfil this responsibility. It must ensure that those who are killing or discriminating against minorities in the name of Islam must be punished," said Mufti.
Mufti was of the view that it was a small minority of extremists in Pakistan that were responsible for such acts; however, he said that the Pakistani establishment was using them for its interests.
Asha'ar Rehman, a Lahore-based journalist, said that the persecution of minorities in Pakistan was "so intense that the executive, which represents the state, has been pandering to the diktats of the fanatics."
The Pakistani government and right-wing groups, however, claim that minorities are given equal rights in the country and that Islam does not condone the use of force.
"Western media has unleashed a systematic propaganda (campaign) against Pakistan and Islam. Christians and Hindus enjoy the same rights in the country as any other Muslim," said Zia Ahmed, a religious cleric in Karachi.
Rehman told DW that in order to make Pakistan a secure place for minorities, the Pakistani state needed to "begin by not condoning such acts against minorities."
"Traditional forums like the trade unions and the student unions, which provided an alternative to Islamization, must be revived. This may not solve the whole problem but it may be a good start to building a counterforce against the dominating, asphyxiating models that thrive on moralizing through religion."
On his part, Mufti said that Pakistan should have a "liberal and secular federation" so that the rights of all its citizens, irrespective of their religious and ethnic affiliations, were safeguarded:
"Pakistan must abolish all laws and practices that discriminate citizens on the basis of religion, cast, or faith."
Author: Shamil Shams
Editor: Sarah Berning