A PEACEFUL protest against the "atrocities" suffered by a father-of-six who was brutally attacked outside his home for converting to Christianity from Islam took place yesterday outside Bradford City Hall.

The rally was organised by the British Pakistani Christian Association (BPCA) and other religious converts and campaigners gathered to support Nissar Hussain, who was left with a broken kneecap and injured hand by the attack last month.

Mr Hussain, 49, who was beaten with a pickaxe handle and punched and kicked by two hooded men in St Paul's Road, Manningham, last month, was not well enough to attend as he recovers from his injuries.

Wilson Chowdhry, chairman of the BPCA, said one of the aims of the event was to reach out to the Muslim community and spread the message that people should have the right to choose their faith.

He added that campaigners were calling for changes to laws around racial hatred, leading to improvements in police protocol on responses to attacks on apostates, those who forsake their religion or faith.

"There should be no compulsion in faith, and we hope that more and more of our Muslim brothers and sisters will veer away from the animosity they have for those who choose to leave the faith and enter other beliefs," said Mr Chowdhry.

"The only way to change this is for the Muslim community to start working in their own parishes, preaching a more peaceful Islam.

"The majority already do, but there are the extremists within our communities and unfortunately, the Muslim community doesn't condemn them enough and isn't working towards outing them.

"If that doesn't change, you will have not just apostate hatred, but the continued polarisation in our communities."

The BPCA said that the Bishop of Bradford, the Right Reverend Toby Haworth, and Mohammed Rafiq Sehgal, president of the Council for Mosques, had provided a joint statement to them supporting the aims of the event although they both did not attend the rally in person.

The joint statement read: "We stand in solidarity with Bradfordians who exercise freedom to follow their conscience, and we reject any kind of hatred or violence as a result of their choice."

The Bishop added: "Freedom of religion, including freedom to practise and to change our religion, is a precious gift as well as a basic human right.

"We cannot allow that freedom to be attacked or subverted in this city, which is home to people of many different faiths as well as those who are not religious.

"We need to be clear that hate crime, including religious hate crime, whoever does it and whoever it is done to, has no place in our city."

Mr Sehgal said: "Choice of a religion is a private and personal matter.

"Any person choosing to follow a particular faith should be allowed to do so with fearing harassment, intimidation, or violence."

During the rally, people waved banners with messages including 'Justice for the Hussains' and 'Our Human Rights', while chanting the mantras 'We want freedom' and 'No more apostates attacks'.

Police are still investigating the attack on Mr Hussain, 49, which happened on November 17 and which is being treated as a religious hate crime.

The BPCA has started a petition in the wake of the incident that can be viewed at petitionbuzz.com/petitions/apostasybychoice.