News24

Khan asked to scrap Christmas Day rally

2011-11-24 22:23

Islamabad - A Christian rights group in Pakistan on Thursday urged cricket hero turned politician Imran Khan to scrap a major rally planned for Christmas Day, calling the move insensitive to the minority group.

Khan set Pakistan alight and surprised critics last month by drawing tens of thousands of people to a rally in his hometown of Lahore, transforming overnight from a wannabe to potential kingmaker in polls expected next year.

He now hopes to top that success with a rally in Karachi, Pakistan's largest city, on December 25, which holds special significance as the birthday of the country's founder Muhammad Ali Jinnah and a public holiday.

But in an open letter, the Centre for Human Rights Education called on Khan to change the date and send a positive message to persecuted minorities that he would work to reverse decades of discrimination.

"Arranging a rally on Christmas Day shows they are not sensitive to the Christian community," said Samson Salamat, director of the Lahore-based group and a Christian human rights activist.

"This is an important day for us and it is our basic right that we should be given respect," he told AFP.

Arif Alvi, secretary general of Khan's Tehreek-e-Insaf (Movement for Justice) told AFP the party would "consider the suggestion" but said it would hamper preparations to change the date.

"We will co-operate with the Christian community and facilitate their celebration of Christmas. We will also provide them transport, if they contact us, for Christmas celebrations or to attend our rally," he said.

But Michael Javed, a Christian community leader in Karachi, dismissed any problem, saying that Christmas rituals would be largely completed before the rally gets underway in the evening of December 25.

There is a tiny Christian minority in Pakistan, where only 3% of the population of 167 million are estimated to be non-Muslim and where the Vatican has said Christians are often victims of violence and discrimination.

International uproar was sparked last year when a Christian mother of five was sentenced to death under the country's controversial blasphemy laws.

Prominent liberal politician Salman Taseer and minorities minister Shahbaz Bhatti, himself a Christian, were both assassinated in 2011 over calls to reform the legislation widely criticised overseas and by human rights groups.