MUMBAI, India – A series of violent incidents against religious minorities in Pakistan has been condemned by the social justice arm of the nation’s bishops’ conference.

In a statement, the National Commission for Justice and Peace (NCJP) said that an “alarming increase” in violence has been witnessed over the past few weeks.

“Some of the most recent incidents include the desecration of crosses on the graves in a Christian populated village (Antonioabad) near Okara city. According to a source, on May 12, 2019, when people came for Sunday service, they noticed some crosses on the graves were broken and uprooted. They informed the deacon and following this all the congregation visited the graveyard. They found that the Crosses of 40 graves were vandalized,” the May 29 statement said.

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The commission also pointed to the May 14 murder of Javed Masih, a 36-year-old Christian man, by his Muslim employer in a village near Faisalabad.

“He faced religious discrimination at the hands of his Muslim boss and his friends because he decided to switch his job,” the NCJP said.

In a third incident taking place on May 27, a Hindu veterinarian named Ramesh Kumar was accused of blasphemy after a man alleged that he had provided modification wrapped in paper that the man claimed had Quranic verses printed on them.

“Following this, riots broke out in the area and a mob burnt down the doctor’s shop, a cabin that belonged to his brother, and a motorbike,” the statement said, adding that the doctor had a criminal complaint registered against him and was taken into custody for fear of his safety.

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Under Pakistan’s blasphemy laws, anyone accused of insulting Allah, Mohammad, or Islam in general faces capital punishment. These laws are often misused to settle personal scores, especially against members of religious minorities.

Radical Islamists have made the punishment of blasphemy a major rallying cry, bringing tens of thousands into the streets and paralyzing major cities. The Tehreek-e Labbaik party won three seats in last year’s provincial election on an agenda of defending the blasphemy law.

Probably the most famous example is Asia Bibi, an illiterate Catholic woman who spent almost a decade on death-row over blasphemy allegations in Pakistan. She has always denied the charges and was acquitted by Pakistan’s supreme court last October. This month, she was allowed to leave to join her family in Canada.

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“The National Commission for Justice and Peace strongly condemns the targeting of minorities due to their faith. These attacks on minorities is not acceptable and the state must provide protection and security to every citizen,” the commission said.

“The government must ensure that the perpetrators of these violations are brought to justice,” the statement continued, adding: “Special attention should be given to the security of the properties and worship places of minorities.”

Archbishop Joseph Arshad, the chairperson of NCJP and the president of the Pakistan Catholic Bishops’ Conference, called upon the government “to take necessary steps to provide security and to hold those accountable for these incidents.”

Cecil Shane Chaudhry, the Executive Director of the NCJP, said that the recent attacks “indicate that minorities are still considered as second-class citizens.”

“They are still struggling for their fundamental rights that still need to be ensured by the state,” he said.

“The government needs to implement the 2014 order of the Supreme Court,” Chaudhry told Crux.

In that judgement, Pakistan’s Supreme Court called for the promotion and protection of the “legitimate rights” of religious minorities.

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Chaudhry also called for the implementation of the National Action Plan for human rights, which was adopted in 2016.

The 16-point action plan calls for action in 60 areas, including the development of national policy on human rights, provisions for free legal aid to the victims of human rights abuses, creating effective measures to curb gender-based violence, the establishment of women protection centers, setting up of a national commission for minorities, justice and prison reforms, and the implementation of international human rights treaties and conventions.

However, human rights groups say the National Action Plan has yet to be implemented.

Last month, the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan issued its annual report, which said minorities “continued to face harassment, arrest or even death for simply living their lives in accordance with their beliefs in Pakistan in 2018.”

Chaudry told Crux, “There is a fear looming in the minority communities.”

This article incorporated material from the Associated Press.

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