Govt not to compromise on blasphemy law

PM Imran chairs meeting on Monday to review EU Parliament’s resolution on Pakistan’s blasphemy laws


Rizwan Ghilzai May 04, 2021
Prime Minister Imran Khan chairs a meeting of federal cabinet in Islamabad. PHOTO: PID/FILE

ISLAMABAD:

The federal government has decided not to compromise on the country’s blasphemy law in view of a recent resolution of the European Parliament that called for reviewing Pakistan’s Generalised Scheme of Preferences Plus (GSP+) status amid "alarming" number of blasphemy cases.

The government will, however, introduce new legislation with regard to various aspects of human rights in line with its agreements with the European Union (EU).

Prime Minister Imran Khan on Monday chaired a meeting to review the EU Parliament’s Thursday resolution that claimed that there has been an alarming increase in accusations of blasphemy online and offline in Pakistan over the past year.

"Many of these accusations target human rights defenders, journalists, artists and the most marginalised people in society," said the resolution titled “the Blasphemy laws in Pakistan, in particular the case of Shagufta Kausar and Shafqat Emmanuel”.

It alleged that Pakistan’s blasphemy laws are increasingly used for personal or political score‑settling in violation of the rights to freedom of religion and belief and of opinion and expression.

According to sources, the meeting on Monday decided not to compromise on the blasphemy law as well as the law declaring Ahmadi community non-Muslim. The meeting was told that Pakistan’s agreement with the EU did not include any condition with regard to religion.

Pakistan had made a total of eight agreements with the EU on various human rights issues including human freedom, enforced disappearances, women rights and minority rights.

The participants agreed that the government should now introduce new legislation in line with these agreements in the parliament after approval of the legislative committee.

The meeting was told that the country would suffer an annual loss of $3billion if the EU revokes its GSP+ status. It was agreed that the country should hold talks with the countries of the economic bloc.

Meeting with OIC envoys

According to a press release issued by the PM office, Prime Minister Imran Khan later met ambassadors from the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) countries to discuss combating Islamophobia.

Recalling the two letters that he wrote to the leaders of the Islamic world last year, the prime minister briefed the envoys on Pakistan’s efforts at the international level to create awareness about Islamophobia and the need to collectively address the phenomenon.

He said Pakistan’s initiatives are aimed at building mutual understanding and promoting inter-faith harmony. Noting that Islamophobic acts fan inter-religious hatred and disharmony among civilizations, the prime minister called for addressing the underlying reasons for the rise in such incidents worldwide.

“Falsely equating Islam with radicalism and terrorism is leading to the marginalization and stigmatization of Muslims. Vilification of Islamic precepts and religious personalities, wrongly justified under the garb of the right to freedom of expression or opinion, hurts the sentiments of 1.5 billion Muslims,” he said.

The prime minister urged the OIC to work together for making the international community understand the deep-rooted love and reverence of all Muslims for the Holy Prophet (PBUH) and the Holy Quran.

He also underlined the need for instituting legal safeguards aimed at protecting the sensitivities of all religious groups. “It is imperative that the OIC make collective efforts to project the true image of Islam, and its message of peace and tolerance,” he said.

The prime minister reaffirmed that Pakistan remains committed to dialogue and cooperation with all members of the international community for promoting universal values of tolerance, mutual respect and peaceful co-existence among all nations and peoples.

EU resolution

The resolution claimed that judicial procedures in blasphemy cases in Pakistan are "highly flawed" where low standards of evidence are required for a conviction and judicial authorities often uncritically accept allegations.

"The accused are often presumed guilty and have to prove their innocence rather than vice versa."

It expressed concern regarding the case of couple Shagufta Kausar and Shafqat Emmanuel, who were sentenced to death on blasphemy charges in 2014 for alleged sending blasphemous text messages “from a phone number registered to Kausar to the person accusing the couple of blasphemy”, it added.

The resolution called on the Commission and the European External Action Service (EEAS) to immediately review Pakistan’s eligibility for GSP+ status in the light of current events and “to initiate a procedure for the temporary withdrawal of this status and the benefits that come with it."

The European Parliament called on the EEAS to use all the tools at their disposal, including those provided for by the EU guidelines for the promotion and protection of freedom of religion or belief, to assist religious communities and pressurise Pakistan to do more to protect religious minorities.

It said that Pakistan has benefited from trade preferences under the GSP+ programme since 2014 whereas the economic benefits from this unilateral trade agreement for the country are considerable.

"GSP+ status comes with the obligation to ratify and implement 27 international conventions including commitments to guarantee human rights and religious freedom," the text reads.

The resolution said that in its latest GSP+ assessment of Pakistan of 10 February 2020, the commission expressed a variety of serious concerns on the human rights situation in the country, notably the lack of progress in limiting the scope and implementation of the death penalty.

It called on Pakistan to unequivocally condemn incitement to violence and discrimination against minorities and to put in place effective, procedural and institutional safeguards at the investigative, prosecutorial and judicial levels to prevent the abuse of the blasphemy laws pending their abolition.

The EU Parliament deplored the continuing discrimination against and violence towards religious minorities in Pakistan, including Christians, Ahmadi community, Shias and Hindus.

The resolution specifically mentioned “the repeated and deceptive attacks” against the French authorities by members of the Pakistani government and from radical Pakistani groups, including the extremist religious party Tehreek-e-Labbaik (TLP).

“[These attacks] have escalated on the ground of blasphemy since the French authorities reactions after the terrorist attack against a French school teacher for defending the freedom of expression; leading the French authorities, on April 15, 2021, to recommend to their nationals to temporarily leave the country;

“Despite the very recent ban on the extremist religious party TLP, the Pakistani Minister of the Interior announced on April 20, 2021 that a resolution on the expulsion of the French ambassador to Pakistan would be presented to the National Assembly, even though Prime Minister Imran Khan had spoken out the day before against this removal,” it added.

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