Human Rights Day: Pakistan should challenge the blasphemy laws, not entrench them
The Centre for Legal Aid, Assistance and Settlement (CLAAS-UK) is calling upon the Pakistani Government to take steps to end the misuse of the Blasphemy Laws.
The Pakistani Government should use Human Rights Day on Monday 10 December to put fresh impetus on reviewing the place of laws in the Pakistani legal system and society that cause untold suffering for minorities.
The extent of the misuse was revealed to the world through the case of Asia Bibi, a poor Christian woman who was accused of blasphemy in 2009 and subsequently jailed under threat of the death penalty. She was acquitted on 31 October this year by Pakistan’s Supreme Court, but on the pretext of offering her protection, she remains in custody– and it is not clear why.
The Canadian and several western governments are willing to accept her and her family while American senator Rand Paul has called on President Trump to offer her asylum. Some believe the government is nervous of releasing Asia due to pressure from the Islamist parties.
But no matter the reason, the ongoing lack of resolution exposes the weakness of the government – which seems afraid to act, seeking instead to hide behind a review which is unlikely to be resolved any time soon.
We all know that Asia Bibi and her family will never be safe in Pakistan; according to some reports, hardliners are already hunting for her.
Asia would not be the first or last person to leave Pakistan having been accused of blasphemy. Indeed, hundreds of victims of false blasphemy accusations have fled the country because the government has failed to provide justice or guarantee safety.
Having been acquitted, Asia and her family have the right to migrate in search of safety and a fresh start, and the government should allow this rather than adding to their miseries. Instead the government seems to prefer to appease the hardliners and not let them leave.
Nasir Saeed, Director CLAAS-UK said: “There are many victims of false blasphemy charges who are languishing in jail for years, for the crime they have never committed.
“These victims face years behind bars awaiting trial or going through tortured appeals processes. Others are at the mercy of mobs who may destroy their property or kill them. In all these instances, the law is not on their side.
“The situation for Christians and other religious minorities has become even more precarious as governments and politicians are hesitant and lack the will to discuss this matter in Parliament because of the threats from the hardliners. This is a huge setback for Christians and other minorities who see no future in Pakistan if this law is not amended accordingly.”
So far, no death sentence for blasphemy has ever been carried out but Asia Bibi is a good example of what may await Christians in future if they are accused.
On Human Rights Day Pakistan should remember its human rights obligations under the international conventions they have ratified and make changes to the blasphemy laws to prevent their misuse and lessen the punishment.
Mr Saeed said: “It is deeply concerning that Pakistan seems to be taking steps to further entrench the blasphemy laws and make the punishment even more severe, as Pakistan’s President Dr Arif Alvi’s has said the government will not amend the blasphemy law. As we all know, the blasphemy law is often used by Muslims to settle personal grudges and scores against their rivals, and Christians are the main target.”
Mr Saeed added that the blasphemy law needs change to stop its continuous misuse and the international community needs to remind Pakistan of this regularly.
He further said this does not bode well for Christians and other minorities in Pakistan, and the international community also has a duty to challenge the country on this issue.
“Aid and trade deals should take Pakistan’s track record on human rights into consideration.
“The Pakistani government also has a responsibility to ensure extremists do not simply get away with their hate crimes against minorities.
“On Human Rights Day, the international community should send a clear message to Pakistan that all human life should be respected,” Mr Saeed concluded.