The ACLJ’s affiliate, European Centre for Law and Justice’s (ECLJ) office in Pakistan, the Organization for Legal Aid (OLA), has started an Outreach and Awareness Campaign to reach out to the marginalized and poor Christian communities in Lahore and its surrounding rural areas.
Our goal is to reach out to the marginalized communities through religious and political leaders and social activists and inform them about their rights under Pakistani law. In that regard, the OLA plans to distribute awareness pamphlets that will include basic information about common legal issues regarding human rights abuses and societal discrimination and OLA’s work in that area.
As part of the campaign, on October 27, 2019, our team organized a speaking event at Naulakha Presbyterian Church in Lahore, which is one of the oldest and most prominent churches in Lahore. Our team shared some of our cases, highlighting some of the common human rights issues our communities face.
We are thankful to Rev. Majeed Abel, pastor of Naulakha Church, and his wonderful congregation for warmly welcoming our team and supporting the idea of outreach through informational pamphlets and short speaking sessions to our communities.
Our team also shared with the church that the OLA has represented over 80 clients in the Pakistani courts in the last nine years. Most of those cases have been concluded, included numerous victories, and about ten cases are still ongoing. These cases involve a wide range of issues, including, blasphemy, torture, rape, murder, violence, bonded labor, illegal occupation of churches and cemeteries, etc.
After the service, our team set up a table to distribute pamphlets containing information about OLA’s work and vision and some victories that we have achieved in the past years. The team also spoke with individual congregants and received very positive feedback.
We will continue to update you as we expand the campaign and successfully reach out to those in need.
Here are some of the victories we were able to share:
Pastor Karma Patras
One of the major victories we had at the OLA involved the case of Pastor Karma Patras. Pastor Karma was accused of committing blasphemy against Islam. During a funeral service, Pastor Karma gave a message on the topic of "sacrifice." One Muslim neighbor misunderstood what Pastor Karma had said about the sacrifice of Jesus. He thought Pastor Karma was comparing Eid-ul-Adha (the Eid of sacrifice) with the sacrifice of Jesus.
We argued that proper legal procedure was not followed in that case when the FIR was registered against Pastor Karma. We also facilitated a discussion between the Muslim neighbor and the pastor. As a result, the Muslim neighbor testified in the court that he misunderstood the message. He clarified that the pastor's message was not blasphemous, and that he had no grievance against him. After he testified we filed a petition to dismiss the case for lack of evidence. The court accepted the petition and acquitted the pastor.
People are often falsely accused of blasphemy due to personal disputes. But this was a case that involved misunderstanding about an actual religious statement. Our efforts in this case show that in such cases, our society must endeavor to resolve the disputes without going through long trials in courts.
The term "chuhra" is not only a racial slur . . . , it has real practical implications for many Christians. One case in which the association of the term "churha" with Christians had far reaching implications was that of Naeem Nazir who applied for a job as an office assistant in a government school. Seeing that Naeem was a Christian, the Education Department automatically appointed him as a sweeper. Naeem complained about the discriminatory appointment, but the management told him to remain silent as he was a Christian and was appointed to the right position as a sweeper. We filed a constitutional petition in the Lahore High Court against the Department of Education, arguing that the appointment was based on unlawful religious and racial discrimination.
After a legal battle of six years, the court ordered the District Officer, the Deputy District Officer, and the legal advisor for the Education Department to immediately nullify Naeem's wrongful and discriminatory employment. The judge said that he would suspend all the officials who were involved in such discrimination if Naeem was not issued a new appointment letter as an office assistant. The officer for the Education Department requested that he be given some time, but the court refused. Within two days, Naeem received a new appointment letter explaining that he was being appointed as an office assistant.
Most recently, the OLA represented Imran Masih, his wife, and three children who had been detained and forced to perform physical labor by two zamindar brothers at their farm and home for about four years. The zamindars even chained Imran and forced him and his family to work without compensation. One day the guard forgot to chain Imran and he escaped. Imran ran and walked for the entire night and reached a place of help in the morning. He was brought to our office. We filed a habeas corpus petition in the Lahore High Court to recover the rest of the family from the zamindar's detention. The court appointed a bailiff who raided the dera and found the family. The police broke the locks and took the family into their custody and presented them before the court. Hearing the conditions the family was kept in from the bailiff, the court set the family free. Through a sister organization, we helped Imran and his family start a new life in Lahore.
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