Your honour, your package to improve human rights situation in Pakistan is no doubt admirable. However, among the present laws, the separate electorate system is also the one that clearly violates human rights. Since the introduction of the separate electorate system, the parliamentarians of religious minorities have failed to provide leadership to their communities. They have failed to present even a single bill in parliament for the rights of minorities. These parliamentarians accept the fact that due to their fragile status they are not in a position to do anything tangible for the community they represent. Consequently, a vast majority from minorities is losing their interest in elections, because they are realizing that their votes will not make any change in the prevailing situation-- for them elections have become meaningless-- they feel that it is in their interest to boycott the separate electorate because any election through this system is a mockery of democracy.
The separate election system is against Article 25 of the 1973 Constitution. This system, imposed on the people of Pakistan undemocratically by Zia, has isolated Christians from the social and political life of Pakistan and has created a vicious climate that has increased blasphemy cases dramatically.
Religious minorities believe that military dictator Zia introduced this system to present non-Muslims as "Zimmis" that means second class citizens. Zia-ul-Haq as president of Pakistan from 1977 to 1988 produced a number of blasphemy laws through undemocratic means against the norms of freedom and conscious. For instance, anyone could be arrested without a proper warrant from the court. Even before the case was brought before a court, the victim had lost prestige, property and in many cases lives. In some cases, killers were adored as heroes inside and outside of the prison. Innocent Christians were imprisoned for personal enmity and
several of them were threatened for life. Christian institutions began to be attacked by mobs.
Under the blasphemy laws, even children are not spared. Salamat Masih, a thirteen years old boy, was condemned to death for writing something against the Prophet on the walls of a mosque, although Salamat Masih was a minor and illiterate. There have been several incidents when girls had to accept Islam to save their lives.
The worst part of the blasphemy laws is that the accused cannot hire a Christian lawyer for representation in court-- the lawyer has to be a Muslim in a country where the judges are Muslim, the police are Muslim, and 97 percent of the population are Muslim.
Some of the Christians who were arrested under the blasphemy laws died in the jail, even in police custody, and some were killed outside jails by fanatics, as Ahmer and Manzoor Masih were. Those who were freed by the superior courts, had to seek asylum abroad, where they are still under threat. There must have been numerous persons about whom no one will ever come to know because they died in far off rural areas and their cases were never registered.
A Christian who is accused under the blasphemy laws cannot get bail and is persecuted in jail. Long before the matter goes to a court, public opinion turns against him for a crime he/she has not even committed. On the other hand, their killers are set free on bail within days as in the case of the killer of Manzoor Masih. Sometimes, they are welcomed as heroes in jails as happened with the murderer of Ahmer. Even if they kick the Bible, they are reinstated after their dismissal as in the case of the police officer who masterminded the attack on Shanti Nagar and Khanewal.
Christians are falsely accused and beaten to death; their land is taken from them, their women are raped -- all because of their faith. In the guise of law, mob violence and persecution of Christians is on the increase. Most Christians live in isolated places among Muslims in fear. Even those who live in large cities cannot escape the demon of fear. In certain localities, before leaving for school in the morning, children are advised by their mothers to remain silent if any discussion about religion takes place in the class.
Not only that, the judges of the supreme courts who freed the victims were threatened with life. Justice Araf Iqbal Hassain Bhatti, who had acquitted Salamat Masih and Rehmat Masih, was killed by fanatics on the day when the Queen of England was passing through the Mall Road of Lahore, Pakistan. His sons, grand children, and the members of his family have received threats. Therefore, they passed their days and nights in the shadow of death. It sets a horrible example for the judges.
It is commendable that your government will allow only the deputy commissioner to investigate blasphemy cases before registering them. Though this process would make it difficult to charge anyone under the blasphemy laws, it would not be enough in a country where right from a constable down to police officers, judges and lawyers are Muslims. To expect them all to be non-
discriminatory in a society which is dominated by religious consideration seems next to impossible. Even if one of these persons is discriminatory, it will have a strong impact on a case as well as on victims. In such cases, where punishment is only death, the procedures for investigation should be followed strictly in an atmosphere in which religion cannot penetrate. Moreover, there should be a deterrent to restrict false accusations. The same punishment that is set for an accused should be set also for false accusers.
Another law that is discriminatory is about marriage. According to this law, if a Christian converts to Islam, the earlier Christian marriage stand dissolved, and the subsequent marriage to a Muslim is valid. These laws have created social and marital problems of a very serious nature, because many men and women become Muslims to get rid of their spouses as well as their obligations towards their children. Any person with a certain amount of understanding will disapprove a law that allows a spouse to have another marriage without dissolving the first one, and without deciding the fate of the children from the first marriage.
The present laws about adultery and evidence are also discriminatory, particularly to women of minority religious groups. The punishments for adultery include, stoning to death at a public place and whipping upto one hundred stripes. It is a gender and religious discrimination to expect witnesses only from at least four Muslim adult males.
I am sure your honour is aware of what I am trying to pinpoint. I congratulate you for the humanitarian measures that your government is implementing to safeguard the human rights and freedom of every citizen. Pakistan has acceded to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights adopted and proclaimed by the General Assembly of the United Nations. Your bold and wise steps will confirm that Pakistan was serious in signing the Universal Declaration.
Within weeks of his announcement, Chief Executive General Pervaiz Musharraf backed off from his human rights package related to the procedural amendment in the blasphemy laws. He did it under the pressure of the Muslim cleric. It demonstrates that Islamic extremists in Pakistan are very strong and organized.