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Friday, 8 May 2009

Exclusive; UK Labour MP on Protection Money Extorted from Minorities in Pakistan

Labour MP Virendra Sharma gave me an exclusive at Millbank studios Westminster yesterday concerning the worrisome situation for minorities in Pakistan.

Press and eye witness reports emerging indicate that the Taliban in the North West Frontier Province and surrounding areas of Pakistan are demanding protection money from minorities, as well as pressurising them to live an Islamic way of life.

According to the Pakistan Christian Post, jazia, a tax imposed on non-Muslims living under Sharia law, has to be paid in this region, even though jazia is neither enshrined in Pakistani law nor does it exist in the Constitution. In fact, in Pakistan, minorities are endorsed.

Those who have not paid the jazia have sometimes been kidnapped, tortured and had their homes seized by the Taliban. Christian schools have been bombed and many minority community members have fled the area on their own.

Virendra told me he has written to the British Foreign Secretary David Miliband, asking him to speak to the Pakistani Government to stop the pressure on minorities in the NWFP. Virendra has asked for a meeting with Miliband and is mobilising other MPs to ‘Discuss how we are going to give support to these innocent people.’

Virendra continued, ‘This kind of practice where minorities are forced to live in fear and are terrorised is unacceptable in the twenty-first century and in any civilised nation. We all need to work together to create a society where everyone feels safe and secure. In any democratic and secular society, there’s no place for terrorism.

Former Pakistani Information Minister Sherry Rehman, just back from a trip to Washington with President Asif Ali Zardari, condemned the Taliban extortion acts as ‘Criminal’, adding,

“This is dangerous nonsense and must be condemned and halted at all costs. Sikh, Christian, Hindu communities and other citizens belonging to any religious denomination have full rights to live in Pakistan as per our constitution.”

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