Pakistan resisting International commitments on blasphemy laws

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Representative Image

Islamabad [Pakistan], September 22 (ANI): The increasing cases of blasphemy registered in Pakistan continues to be a cause of concern for human rights activists who have repeatedly highlighted the practice and urged world bodies, including the EU to take note of the issue, which has worsened the lives of minorities living in the country.

Pakistan has registered around 1600 blasphemy cases, which are mostly against religious minorities like Hindus, Christians, Shia and Ahmadiya Muslims from 1987 till today according to several reports by rights groups.

A large number of these blasphemy cases in Pakistan are still awaiting justice.

Junaid Hafeez, a former lecturer at Bahahuddin Zakariya University, Multan, was accused of blasphemy which he never committed. Wajih-ul-Hassan who had served in jail for 18 years was proven innocent in September 2019. And the alleged crime he was accused of was writing a blasphemous letter, which he had never written and was acquitted later. Yet, he lost his 18 years of life in jail.

Blasphemy, which is defined as "the act of insulting or showing contempt or lack of reverence for God," has always been misused by the extremist groups in Pakistan, who have continued discrimination against the minority groups in the country.

Brad Adams, who is Asia director at an international conference on Blasphemy held recently said, "The overturned conviction of a man imprisoned for 18 years highlights just one of the many miscarriages of justice stemming from Pakistan's vaguely worded blasphemy law."

"Typically, it is members of religious minorities or other vulnerable communities who are wrongly accused and left unable to defend themselves," Adams added.

Paulo Casada, who is a former Member of the European Parliament (MEP) and Founder and Executive Director of the South Asia Democratic Forum said, "People are accused of blasphemy in Pakistan without any foundation and often lawyers who are fighting these cases face attack from bigots."

He also stressed that the issue should be highlighted by the EU which has worsened the lives of minorities living in Pakistan

On April 29, 2021, during a European Parliament session, the EU had again raised concerns over Pakistan's harsh blasphemy laws which were misused against the people and their defenders and discriminate against religious minorities.

In view of the seriousness of the issue, a resolution was adopted demanding Pakistan to allow space for religious freedom and EU authorities were urged to review the Generalised Scheme of Preferences (GSP) plus status for Pakistan amidst the increasing number of blasphemy cases in the country.

In December 2020, the US House of Representatives had passed a resolution calling the worldwide repeal of blasphemy laws, which resulted in the imprisonment and/or death of many Christians accused of speaking against Islam.

In fact, the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) 2019 report highlighted that in Pakistan, various political parties and leading politicians promoted intolerance against religious minorities during their lead-up to the 2018 national elections. The report further elaborated that Pakistan failed to adequately protect minority groups, and perpetrated systematic, ongoing, egregious religious freedom violations which occurred despite the optimism about the potential for reform under the new government of Prime Minister Imran Khan, reported International Forum for Right and Security.

USCIRF report 2019 envisaged that the entry of extremist religious parties into the political arena, which includes the Mumbai terror attack mastermind Hafiz Saeed's Milli Muslim League, during the election period would lead to increased threats and hate speeches against religious minorities. This is no more evident than in the recent elections held in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (PoK) where a former Tehreek I Taliban Pakistan associate Mazhar Saeed Shah was given a reserved seat at the behest of the ruling party in the centre. To this extent, terror links of political parties seem to be a non-issue in Pakistan, reports International Forum for Right and Security.

The report said that a minimum of 40 people are currently sentenced to death or serving life sentences for blasphemy in Pakistan. Forced conversions of non-Muslims continue even after the passage of the Hindu Marriage Act, which recognizes Hindu family law. As per the report of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, 1000 boys and girls are converted to Islam every year.

Based on several severe violations, USCIRF designated Pakistan in 2019 as a "country of particular concern," under the International Religious Freedom Act (IRFA).

In November 2019, the UN Human Rights Committee assessed the information provided by the Pakistan government on the follow-up of its August 23, 2017 observations regarding implementation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), found Pakistan non-seriousness in fulfilling its international legal obligations, and most of the responses provided by the country were found to be insufficient or irrelevant, reported International Forum for Right and Security. (ANI)