Rt Rev John Chalmers

Rt Rev John Chalmers

The Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, Right Reverend John Chalmers has urged the Acting High Commissioner of Pakistan to set up an independent, powerful and autonomous commission to protect minority religious groups.

News that the Supreme Court in Pakistan on June 19 ordered the establishment of a Council for Minorities’ Rights under the Constitution of Islamic Republic of Pakistan was welcomed by the Church of Scotland. It was believed the commission would secure and protect their rights. The church’s initial optimism since then has been tempered with news from the Kirk’s partner churches in Pakistan that the Christian community has not been involved in talks.

Right Reverend Chalmers wrote to Mohammad Imran Mirza, in advance of Pakistan’s Independence Day, and expressed concerns the commission resembles one established in 1993 under Ijazul Haq, which did nothing practical to protect minority faith groups. Ijazul Haq is the son of the late President General Zia ul Haq whose amendments to the Blasphemy Law have caused so many problems for all faith communities in Pakistan. The Church of Scotland’s concerns has been heightened because since 1991 anyone found guilty of blasphemy under Section 295 (C) of the Pakistan Penal Code faces a mandatory death sentence.

The Church of Scotland’s involvement in Pakistan, which marks the 67th anniversary of its independence today (Aug 14, 1947), goes back more than 150 years when the first Scottish missionary, Reverend Thomas Hunter, travelled with his wife Jane Scott and their baby son to Sialkot in January 1857.

Reverend Hunter and his family were killed in the Indian Mutiny later that year. Scots returned to Sialkot in 1861 and the Church of Scotland has continued to be involved in education, healthcare and support of the local community. The Hunter family are remembered at the Hunter Memorial Church in Sialkot, a growing and vibrant place of worship to this day.

The Church of Scotland cherishes its association with the Church of Pakistan in continuing to develop and deepen those links. Through its members, the Church of Scotland has supported the people of Pakistan, with financial aid after an earthquake in 2005 and devastating floods in northern Pakistan in 2010, which allowed the Kirk’s partners to give aid to affected communities of all faiths.

• Full story at the Church of Scotland.