Seventh anniversary of Bishop Joseph’s suicide: Sacrifice a source of inspiration, says NCJP
* Section 295-C of Pakistan Penal Code blocking good relations between Muslims minorities
By Waqar Gillani
LAHORE: “His death is a source of inspiration for all human rights activists,” said Peter Jacob, National Commission for Justice and Peace (NCJP) executive secretary, on the eve of the death anniversary of Bishop John Joseph who shot himself in the head in front of the Sahiwal local sessions court on May 6, 1998, to protest the death sentence given to an alleged Christian blasphemer.
Dr Joseph was the Faisalabad bishop, chairperson of the NCJP, and a noted human rights activist commonly known as the ‘Awami Bishop’.
The sessions court sentenced Ayub Masih to death on April 27, 1998. Later, he appealed to superior courts and though the Lahore High Court rejected his appeal, the Supreme Court acquitted him in August 2002.
Before committing suicide, Dr Joseph had arranged special prayers in Sahiwal church, kept a fast and delivered a sermon. He was supposed to deliver an address at a symposium in Rome on May 5, 1998, but he sent a message to the organisers saying he would not be able to attend it. On May 5, 1998, he wrote a letter titled ‘The final step against 295 C’ to local newspapers on the official paper of the Faisalabad Catholic Diocese, mentioning the efforts of civil society, media, parliamentarians, and foreign embassies to abolish such discriminatory laws.
The letter concluded with the following words: “295 C is the greatest block in the good and harmonious ties between Muslims and the religious minorities of Pakistan. In order to achieve national harmony, let us give a mighty push to this immense boulder before it crushes us all. Once this obstacle is overcome, each Pakistani will be able to live and work in peace for the prosperity of our beloved Pakistan. Let us pray continuously, for it, publicly and in private, throughout the country. Amen.”
According to Fr Arnold Heredia, a former executive secretary of the Idara-e-Amn-o-Insaf (Justice and Peace Commission), the growing number of rape cases, the desecration of minority worship places, bulldozing of graveyards and settlements and trumped up blasphemy charges against villagers were issues that Dr Joseph was concerned about.
He said that the murder of Manzoor Masih, accused of making blasphemous remarks against the Prophet (Peace be upon him) by an extremist Muslim group on April 4, 1994, impacted the late bishop. After the incident, he resolved to offer a great sacrifice to repeal the controversial blasphemy laws.
Peter Jacob paid tribute to Dr Joseph’s unforgettable and unprecedented sacrifice against discriminatory laws. He said that the late bishop’s sacrifice had forced people to take the blasphemy issue and minority rights more seriously.
Jacob said that the Christian community would continue their struggle in light of the bishop’s sacrifice. He said that human rights activists would remember the sacrifice forever.
Born in a village named Khush Pur (51 GB) in Tehsil Suumandari, Faisalabad district, on November 15, 1932, the late Dr Joseph was ordained as priest in 1960 and nominated bishop in 1980. He became a full bishop in 1984. He was appointed chairperson of the NCJP and the Commission for Inter-religious Dialogue by the Catholic bishops of Pakistan. He was a strong believer of inter-religious harmony.