Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi has played down accusations of the persecution of Christians in Pakistan, saying there are “individual incidents,” which can be compared to the growing number of knife crimes in the United Kingdom.
Speaking at EU headquarters in Brussels on Tuesday, Qureshi said reports of religious minorities being targeted in Pakistan did not constitute a trend.
“You can’t say this is a trend, no! Individual incidents can be quoted anywhere, [of] minorities being mistreated here, in Europe, in Britain,” The Guardian quoted the top Pakistani diplomat as saying.
“But I can assure you that Christians are very welcome [in Pakistan]. The Christian community in Pakistan is very positive and a very responsible community… We respect them and we want them to be there. We will do everything possible to protect them and we are,” he said.
The senior official went on to say that the recent claims of persecution were an instance of “Western interests,” which “want to paint Pakistan in a particular way.”
Qureshi, who met Jeremy Hunt, the British foreign secretary, in London last week, pointed to the UK’s own problems after the fatal stabbings of four people in four days put London’s knife crimes in the international spotlight last week.
“I can quote you examples of how knife crime has gone up in Britain that is a clear reflection of an increased intolerance within a society which has been so tolerant, so accommodating. So there are examples over here, and there could be some examples over there,” Qureshi said.
According to police data, a total of 40,829 attacks involving knives or sharp instruments took place in the United Kingdom in 2018. But there has been no data attaching those attacks to religion.
Elsewhere in his remarks, the Pakistani foreign minister denounced the misuse of blasphemy law by extremist individuals or groups in his country.
“Nobody wants any law to be misused and we are against misuse of anything,” Qureshi said of the blasphemy law.
He made the remark in response to a question by reporters about whether Christians were being attacked or facing persecution under Pakistan’s controversial blasphemy laws. His comments also follow the international outcry sparked by the case of Asia Bibi, a Pakistani Christian woman who spent eight years on death row on charges of blasphemy, which were later dropped by Pakistan’s Supreme Court.
Blasphemy laws in Pakistan have raised concern among rights activists and some politicians, who say it is often exploited by extremists or those who want to settle personal scores.
Critics say hundreds of people languish in Pakistani jails under false blasphemy charges. In most cases, even unproven allegations frequently stir mob violence and bloodshed.
Hundreds of cases of criminal blasphemy are filed across Pakistan each year. Dozens of people, including lawyers, defendants, and judges, have been murdered in Pakistan over blasphemy allegations since 1990.
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