Britain calls on Pakistan to repeal blasphemy laws
|London: August 16, 2017. (PCP) While Pakistan celebrated the 70th anniversary of the creation of their nation British politicians urged the President and the Prime Minister to repeal the blasphemy laws of Pakistan that have been a tool for discrimination.
24 British MP's including Jim Shannon of the DUP who is Chairman of both the All Parliamentary Party Group on International Religious Freedom and the APPG for Pakistani Minorities and long term BPCA friend Lord Alton.
The blasphemy laws of Pakistan were introduced by the British in 1860 in response to persecution of Muslims by the Hindu Majority during the British Raj. The laws had a maximum sentence of 6 months or a small fine and provided protection to people of all faiths.
During the 1980's under dictator General Zia-ul-Haq the blasphemy laws took a more aggressive Islamist form yet by the time of his final reform in 1986 only 10 blasphemy convictions had been passed. Since then the blasphemy laws have reached their thousands in a very short space of time.
Under Prime Minister Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto's patronage a Second Amendment to the Constitution of Pakistan on September 7, 1974, declared Ahmadi Muslims as non-Muslims.
Second amendment to the Constitution of Pakistan: "A person who does not believe in the absolute and unqualified finality of The Prophethood of Muhammad (Peace be upon him), the last of the Prophets or claims to be a Prophet, in any sense of the word or of any description whatsoever, after Muhammad (Peace be upon him), or recognizes such a claimant as a Prophet or religious reformer, is not a Muslim for the purposes of the Constitution or law."
In 1986, it was supplemented by a new blasphemy provision Section 295c of the Pakistani Penal Code which also applied to Ahmadi Muslims.
View all Blasphemy laws at foot of this article.
The Pakistani government by refusing to amend or repeal the blasphemy laws have made themselves ostensibly complicit in the persecution of non-Sunni religious minorities, including other Muslim sects, Christians and Hindus,
However, the plight of Pakistani Minorities has not gone noticed by British MP's who remain the loudest objectors to the severe discrimination and persecution exhibited by Pakistan's Sunni Majority.
MP Siobhain McDonagh, who is Chair of the APPG for Ahmadiyya Muslims, coordinated the efforts by UK MP's to pressure the Pakistani government into abrogating their draconian blasphemy laws.
A Christian Today report stated: McDonagh and her colleagues write: 'The Ahmadiyya Muslim community and other religious minorities including Shia Muslims, Christians and Hindus suffer a denial of religious freedom at the hands of the state compounded by harassment, violence and persecution from extremists.'
They urge Pakistan to use its 70th anniversary as an occasion to revive the original vision of a country 'united, open and free, where religious freedom' is integral.
'We sincerely believe that by addressing these pressing issues and by repealing these laws you will bequeath a priceless gift to the people of Pakistan, a gift of hope, unity and prosperity and we earnestly hope that you will give these issues the urgent attention they deserve.'
McDonagh said she congratulated Pakistan on its anniversary and was a 'friend' but called for 'concrete action' to guarantee religious freedom.
'Federal laws that target Ahmadi Muslims as well as the Blasphemy Laws that are used to deny freedom of religion for Ahmadis, Christians, Shias and Hindus must be repealed so that all religious communities can live without fear and contribute to the country's success,' she said.
This action by British MPs’ comes only weeks after the United Nation's 'Centre for Civil and Political Rights'
addressed Pakistan’s blasphemy laws more directly. In their report the CCPR recommended that Pakistan begins repealing or amending its blasphemy laws within a year by 27th June 2018 providing a very short timeline. Their recommendations were that Pakistan:
(a) Repeal all blasphemy laws or amend them in compliance with the strict requirements of the Covenant, including as set forth in general comment No. 34, para. 48;
(b) Ensure that all those who incite or engage in violence against others based on allegations of blasphemy as well as those who falsely accuse others of blasphemy are brought to justice and duly punished;
(c) Take all measures necessary to ensure adequate protection of all judges, prosecutors, lawyers and witnesses involved in blasphemy cases;
(d) Ensure that all cases of hate speech and hate crimes are thoroughly and promptly investigated and perpetrators are prosecuted and, if convicted, punished;
(e) Review school textbooks and curricula with a view to removing all religiously biased content and incorporate human rights education therein, and continue to regulate madrassas;
(f) Fully implement the judgement of the Supreme Court on 19 June 2014.
Marijana Petir, a Croatian member of the European Parliament, condemned the blasphemy laws of Pakistan and ongoing persecution of Christians another minorities in an older article with Christianity Today, dated 7th August 2017 (click here)
The National Commission for Justice and peace in November 2015, reported that Pakistan has prosecuted 633 Muslims, 494 Ahmedis, 187 Christians, and 21 Hindus since 1987. Illustrating that over 50% of blasphemy allegations are targeting Minorities with Christians and Ahmedis (Ahmadiyyas) making up the largest contingents. This is quite bizarre as Christians only make up 1.6% of the population yet make up 15% of overall blasphemy convictions a huge disparity.
Moreover, the percentage of Christians accused under blasphemy is believed to have increased a consequence of promulgation of hate text within the National Curriculum of Pakistan.
Wilson Chowdhry, Chairman of the British Pakistani Christian Association, said: "Though it is heartwarming to learn of British Politicians leading the clamour for repeal of Pakistan's notorious blasphemy laws, the fact that only 24 signatories endorsed the letter is deflating. Britain has 650 Mp's and 800 Lords yet only 1.7% of them felt moved to challenge Pakistan our second largest foreign aid budget recipient, on their poor human rights record.
"It is abysmal that so many other politicians refuse to acknowledge the pain and suffering these laws, the constitution of Pakistan and a warped national curriculum foster in a highly Islamite state.
"I commend the passionate politicians who have supported this action and will pray that more of our British MP's and peers will stand for truth and justice and challenge their Pakistani counterparts to provide a palpable solution to the ongoing social malaise in Pakistan - which is much a fault of their own.
"Pakistan is beset with many equality issues including a biased constitution that prescribes Islam as the national faith placing non-Muslims at a distinct disadvantage.
1 million Christian slaves work in brutal brick kiln factories, most of the rest work as sewage workers or sweepers with provincial governments stipulating only non-Muslim applicants on job adverts for these roles, as a means for positive discrimination or so they say.
Moreover, a national curriculum that promulgates hatred for minorities through texts that demonize and caricature them has only served to overwhelm the nation with animosity towards perceived 'useless Christians'
"Quite simply the quality of life for minorities has reached its lowest ebb in a nation that has moved far from the founder’s original direction. Is it any coincidence that most of Pakistan's minorities fail to understand why they should celebrate Pakistan's 70th anniversary?"
Past efforts from Pakistani leaders to repeal the laws have been met with violence. Punjab Gov. Salman Taseer was assassinated by his own bodyguard in 2011 after Taseer called for abrogation of the laws as was Shahbaz Bhatti who simply called for reform of the 'Black laws'. Musharraf's Government, Zardari's Government and Nawaz Shariff's Government have all seen amendments to the Blasphemy laws pass through parliament yet fail to be ratified after pressure from Islamic fundamentalists.