“The aim of highlighting stories of people like MA Joseph Francis is to tell people that change is possible and that dreams do come true,” IA Rehman, the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) director, said on Monday.
He was presiding over the launch of the book Mera Haqiqi Hero (My True Hero) by SM Sabir Khokhar as a tribute to Francis for his contributions towards the welfare of minority communities.
Francis was associated with the Pakistan People’s Party since the early 70s, but later left the party and became the chairman of the Pakistan Christian Party.
Rehman said that Francis had worked for the welfare of people during his political career as well. Speaking about the title of the book, he said, “Heroes are people who work for the welfare of mankind beyond religious and political affiliations.”
Khokhar said he was immensely inspired by Francis in their very first meeting. The writer said that Francis did not initially agree to be the subject of the book. Khokhar said the book was started in the ‘90s after Francis finally gave in and agreed to be interviewed for it.
He said Francis had contributed much to the welfare of the minorities in the country. Khokhar said Francis started his activism during Gen Ziaul Haq’s military regime and faced much persecution.
This, he said, led Francis to form the Centre for Legal Aid, Assistance and Settlement (CLAAS) to provide legal aid to people accused of blasphemy.
“Francis was always part of civil campaigns against military regimes,” Advocate Manzoor Ali Gillani, president of the Istaqlal Party, said.
He said Francis had worked for human rights, “not just for his community but for everyone”.
Peter Jacob, the National Commission for Justice and Peace (NCJP) director, said that Francis’s life must be celebrated in view of his rights activism in the country. The best thing about him, Jacob said, was how quickly he responded to issues.
The speakers talked about how during Zia’s regime, Francis faced great oppression and had to go into hiding.
Honoured by the tribute, Francis said he was lucky to witness such a tribute in his lifetime. “Usually tributes and memorial services are arranged after a person’s death. I am grateful,” he said.
Published in The Express Tribune, May 22nd, 2012.
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