The government must clarify its stance on blasphemy laws to prevent extrajudicial killings and attack on minority settlements, said several human rights activists at a consultation organised by the Association of Women for Awareness and Motivation (AWAM) and Rights of Expression, Assembly, Association and Thought (REAT).
Speaking on the occasion, South Asia Partnership district coordinator Iftikhar Ahmed said no political party had taken a tough stance on the abuse of blasphemy laws.
“Incidents of alleged blasphemy have made lawyers and judges vulnerable. These accusations also endanger lives of families of the accused,” he said.
“Nearly 50 per cent of blasphemy suspects become victims of extra-judicial killings. The police seem helpless in situations caused by blasphemy charges,” he added.
Awami Workers Party representative Arif Ayaz said most people did not oppose the blasphemy law but spoke against its misuse.
“Media and policies parties must take up this issue and start a debate around it. So far, no one is willing to address this issue despite the fact the laws is frequently used to victimise people,” he said.
Advocate Hashmat Barkat said that governments had failed to tackle abuse of blasphemy laws.
“These laws are repeatedly exploited to harass and curtail freedoms of religious minorities,” he said.
AWAM Director Naseem Anthony said human rights defenders should critically analyse material being published.
“There is a need for material promoting social harmony and peaceful coexistence rather than intolerance and prejudice,” he said.
“The government should try to mitigate public attitudes and behaviour,” he said.
“Change in social attitudes can reform laws,” he said.
Peace and Human Development Foundation Director Suneel Malik said all blasphemy cases should be heard at high courts and the complainant should be penalised for the accusation whenever proved false.
Published in The Express Tribune, November 16th, 2014.