Europe lashes out at Pakistan's blasphemy laws

Christians Pakistan

Pakistan is under immense pressure after the latest strident international condemnation for its abysmal human rights record, spiralling religious intolerance and complete disregard for freedom of speech, and media.

The European Parliament, a powerful body of legislators in Europe, added to the long list of countries and international bodies which have called out Pakistan’s vicious campaign of religious hatred and suppression of free speech and thought.

Although this has always existed in Pakistan, it has accelerated since Imran Khan became Prime Minister.

In an unprecedented move in April, the European Parliament sought an end to trade concessions granted to Pakistan by European countries for its colossal failure to heed previous warnings about blasphemy laws and systematic and brutal suppression of minorities and media houses and personnel.

As many as 681 members of the European Parliament voted in favor of the motion with only three opposing it.

The European Parliament’s resolution comes in the wake of Imran Khan’s capitulation to Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan, an ultra-right wing political party patronised by the Pakistani Army, which unleashed violence and arson across the country demanding the immediate expulsion of French Ambassador for cartoons of Muhammad, the founder of Islam, published in a French satire journal.

The resolution pointed out that the TLP was “ building considerable barriers to human rights by persecuting politically and religiously dissenting voices and accusing them of blasphemy.”

The resolution, not surprisingly, focusses on the blasphemy law which has held millions of minorities in Pakistan hostage to militant mullahs and their cronies.

The law has been exploited by all and sundry, not without the direct and implicit support of the state, as personal and communal vendetta against minorities and anyone who raised voice against the law.

The resolution pointed out that “the blasphemy laws of Pakistan are notoriously broad, vague and coercive, and establish the automatic and mandatory imposition of the death penalty.”

Such a legislation, the parliament said, violated the state’s obligations “to respect and fulfil the right to life, equality before the law, prohibition of discrimination, freedom of opinion and expression, and freedom of thought, conscience and religion or belief.”

The resolution underlined the absence of fair trial, making it almost impossible for those charged wrongly to expect legal remedy.

The resolution stated that the “judges are pressured and intimidated into convicting defendants, defense lawyers have been killed in court and witnesses and families have had to go into hiding out of fear."

Today, at least 17 people await gallows on blasphemy charges, with new accused being constantly added to the list.

The European Parliament said the blasphemy laws created a climate of terror and coercion in Pakistan, targeted at all religious minorities, including Christians, Hindus, Sikhs, as well as Sufi, Ahmadiyya and Shia Muslims.

The result has been that religious minorities in Pakistan are increasingly finding it perilous to practice their religion and express their beliefs and opinions, fearing the worst from the majority community as well as the state.

The motion also pointed out how Pakistan has been exploiting the law to silence voices that are critical of the government, including journalists and artists.

The reaction of the Imran Khan government has been the traditional response of successive governments.

Pakistan responded to international condemnation of its complete disregard for equality and justice to its minorities, including women through constant denial.

But it no longer can get away with it and the European Union will likely make Pakistan realise its folly through significant economic pressure.

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