Anglican leader pleads for protection of Pakistan's Christians
The Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby has said Pakistan's Christians are a people under siege and he has joined calls for their churches to be protected and for them to be able to worship in safety.
"Freedom of worship is a universal human right around the world, and all countries need to pay attention to that," he said, the Anglican Communion News Service reported Thursday.
The archbishop was speaking at the end of a two-day visit to Pakistan's Anglicans leaders in the eastern city of Lahore.
Welby heard of the persecution and daily threats Christians face from Islamist militants in Pakistan the news service reported.
Of Pakistan's 196 million people 96 percent are Muslims, most of whom are Sunnis.
Pakistan has some 3.6 million Christians who account for about two percent of the population, noted ACNS, saying they been targeted by the misuse of draconian blasphemy laws.
Separately Welby condemned the "revolting lynching" of a pregnant Pakistani woman who was stoned to death by her family in front of hundreds of people outside the Lahore high court.
"I was utterly horrified and every Pakistani I have spoken to is also horrified. It (the stoning) was in no sense a punishment, but a revolting lynching," The Times newspaper reported.
Blasphemy carries the death penalty in Pakistan and cases against both religious minorities and Muslims are rising.
The archbishop added his voice to the plea for an immediate change in laws that have also been misused to target Muslims by those with a vendetta against their neighbours.
"I pray for their blessing and for the government to be favourable to seeing that this is not a group that are seeking undue advantage but are only seeking to do good," Welby said during a press conference.
Welby was enthroned as spiritual head of the Church of England and symbolic head of the 80-million strong Anglican Communion in March 2013.
Accompanied by his wife Caroline, Welby was visiting Pakistan at the invitation of its Anglican primate, Samuel Robert Azariah, Bishop of Raiwind and moderator of the Church of Pakistan.
During the visit the Anglican leader met with Christian and Muslim leaders, attended a special service at Lahore's Cathedral of the Resurrection, and met with high school students.
Welby is on a week-long visit in the in the region. Thursday he arrived in Bangladesh, after which he will travel to India.