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Australian Catholic officials leave for timely Pakistan solidarity visit
    As Australian Catholic Social Justice Council Member, Fr Paul Devitt and Chief Executive Officer, Sandie Cornish prepare to fly to Pakistan for a solidarity visit to the National Commission for Justice and Peace of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of Pakistan, they received news yesterday of the detention of Church justice and peace workers in Karachi.
    Fr Arnold Heredia, 60, and layman Mr Alsam Martin, 44, were among those detained on Wednesday for taking part in a protest against the blasphemy laws held in Karachi. Fr Arnold Heredia has served in human rights organisations for over two decades and he is respected in civil society.
    Ms Cornish said: "Our colleagues inform us that an application for the release of Fr Heredia and Mr Martin on bail was rejected on Thursday and that the court ordered the physical remand of the detainees till Tuesday. The Committee for Justice & Peace in Karachi intended to take the question to the High Court [on Monday]."
    She continued: "It is sobering to receive this news so close to our departure for Pakistan, but it is also a timely reminder of the reasons for which we are undertaking this solidarity visit. We hope to learn more about the situation of minorities in Pakistan, and to reflect with our colleagues there on how Catholics in Australia can best express their solidarity."
    "They are expressing deep concern over the use of brute force including baton charging and tear gas, and the detention of people engaged in a peaceful procession against the blasphemy laws", she said.
    The Pakistani Church statement contends that the detentions were gruesome and unjustified because the procession was totally peaceful and exercised their constitutional right of expression.
    It said: "The anger of the people against blasphemy laws is genuine and based on witness of people being illegally and unjustly murdered, their properties looted, their places of worship destroyed (as in Khanewal /Shantinagar) and people being forced to leave the country on pretext of blasphemy charges."
    In May 1998, the sacrifice of Bishop John Joseph drew international attention to the human rights situation of minorities in Pakistan.