PAKISTAN: Appeal to amend the Blasphemy Laws‏

Urgent Appeal Case: AHRC-UAC-183-2010

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The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) has received information regarding the introduction of a private member’s bill to the National Assembly Secretariat that would end the death penalty for blasphemy, curtail abuse of the blasphemy laws for the purpose of harassing and victimising religious minorities and take steps to ensure equal protection for all religions under the law. The bill was introduced by People’s Party member of the National Assembly Ms. Sherry Rehman, former federal minister, who said, “The bill amends both the Pakistan Penal Code (PPC) and the Code of Criminal Procedure (CRPC), the two main sources of criminal law. The aim is to amend the codes to ensure protection of Pakistan’s minorities and vulnerable citizens, who routinely face judgments and verdicts in the lower courts where mob pressure is often mobilised to obtain a conviction.”

Following the Asia Bibi case, in which a Christian woman was sentenced to death under the blasphemy laws, Ms. Rehman has introduced an amendment to the Pakistan Penal Code and the Code of Criminal Procedure. The amendment would end the death penalty for blasphemy and take steps toward ensuring equal protections for religious minorities under the law in Pakistan.

Currently, extreme militant Muslim organisations may use blasphemy laws as a way to pressure and oppress religious minority groups. So far, the government has failed to protect the lives and property of the minority community. Although there is formal protection in place for religious minorities in the Constitution and although the blasphemy law has made it compulsory that no police officer below the rank of Superintendent of Police can investigate the charges, these statutes are rarely respected.

Religious minority groups in Pakistan remain vulnerable due to the continued use and abuse of blasphemy charges, despite section 295C of the Pakistan Penal Code. The police, who fail to follow the code and who operate under the directives of extremists in the community, must face strong legal action. Charges of blasphemy are still met with the death penalty in Pakistan.

The deliberate institutionalisation of Islam’s status as protected and predominant promoted the perpetuation of religious intolerance by Islamic fundamentalists. According to data collected through different sources at least 1030 persons were charged under these anti-blasphemy clauses from 1986 to August 2009, while over 30 persons were killed extra-judicially by angry mobs or individuals.

Militant Muslim organisations are using blasphemy as a tool as the best way to keep religious minority groups under pressure and even forcibly take land. The State is failing to protect the lives and property of the minority community.

In August 2009 after the attack on the Christian population in Gojra, Punjab province, in which seven Christians were burnt to death, the Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani again announced plans to review “laws detrimental to religious harmony” in a committee comprising of constitutional experts, the minister for minorities, the religious affairs minister and other representatives, but the government has again hesitated to initiate change due to their unwillingness to antagonize fundamentalist groups.

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Recent cases in Pakistan suggest a criminal collaboration among government authorities, police, and fundamentalist organisations, in which the Muslim clergy, on receiving bribes from land-grabbers in the National and Provincial Assemblies, colluded with local police to expropriate land owned by minorities by bringing allegations of blasphemy against them. The situation is especially worrying in Punjab province after the formation of the PML-N government, which has a record of intolerant policies against Christians and Ahmadis in particular.

The introduction of an amendment in the National Assembly that would limit the abuse of blasphemy laws is a major development in Pakistan and must be supported strongly. Please write letters to legislators, officials, and civil society leaders urging them to support and lobby for this law.

The AHRC is writing a separate letter to the UN Special Rapporteur on the Question of religious minorities calling for his intervention into the misuse of blasphemy law.

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