The Senate Standing Committee on Human Rights was presented with a distressing revelation on Friday, as it learned that a staggering 179 individuals in Pakistan currently find themselves in detention and awaiting trial on charges of blasphemy. Even more troubling, 17 people have already been sentenced in such cases.

These harrowing statistics were shared with the Senate panel by the National Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (NHRC), shining a harsh spotlight on the ongoing misuse of blasphemy laws in the country.

The demand for this critical information arose following the Jaranwala incident, which saw a violent mob destroy numerous houses and churches over allegations of blasphemy. Senator Walid Iqbal, the chairman of the Senate Standing Committee on Human Rights, had called for details of blasphemy cases during a meeting last month, insisting on equal scrutiny regardless of the faith of the accused.

The committee had further recommended the formation of a national coordination committee within the Ministry of Human Rights, tasked with devising effective standard operating procedures to address issues causing suffering to minority communities.

Breaking down the figures by provinces, the NHRC’s report revealed that 17 individuals were detained in Islamabad, 18 in Punjab, 78 in Sindh, 55 in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, and one in Baluchistan. Shockingly, 17 people had already been convicted, with 11 from Islamabad, four from Sindh, and two from Balochistan. Notably, no convictions had occurred in Punjab and KP.

Senator Iqbal expressed concern over the rampant misuse of blasphemy laws as a means of settling personal vendettas. The committee is determined to explore measures to prevent such misuse and has invited Senator Sherry Rehman to discuss potential solutions. Additionally, a bill introduced by Senator Rehman addressing blasphemy laws will undergo examination to address these urgent issues.