EU Parliament calls for action against Pakistan’s Blasphemy laws

In the Islamic Republic of Pakistan there are 29 crimes that are punishable by death, including non‑violent crimes such as adultery and blasphemy. Blasphemy laws in particular, are used to discipline any citizen considered to have disrespected the local dominant religion. In Pakistan, any individual found to have disrespected Islamic ideology, practices, spaces or people, are at risk of being punished by the state under the Pakistani blasphemy law. These laws are in direct opposition to the internationally protected freedoms of belief, thought and expression and undermine the principles of human rights. What is more, blasphemy laws are found to be used by governments to specifically target and persecute religious and minority communities. Of equal concern, is appears that blasphemy laws are increasingly, and without justification, being used against women.

This was certainly the case for Asia Bibi, a young Christian Pakistani mother imprisoned for seven years and sentenced to death for taking water from a well reserved for Muslims. Even though the validity of these laws has been called into question by the European Union (EU), the EU itself refused to offer Asia Bibi asylum when she was at risk of being killed by the Pakistani fundamentalists. In addition to refusing to help Ms. Bibi, the EU has also continued to provide Pakistan with membership to the advantageous GSP+ program.

In a written question to the European Commission’s External Action Service (EEAS) (E-001915/2019) in the spring of this year, French Member of European Parliament (MEP) Aymeric Chauprade of the Europe of Freedom and Direct Democracy Group raised concerns over Europe’s continued disregard for the state of human rights in Pakistan. In his questions MEP Chauprade specifically highlighted citizen’s concerns over Pakistan’s preferential treatment in the EU’s General Scheme of Preferences Plus (GSP+) program “even though the country is clearly failing to comply with the scheme’s requirements” and requested a detailed review of Pakistan’s export privileges. He also drew direct attention to the case of Asia Bibi, inquiring “what measures has the EU put in place to encourage Pakistan to stop disproportionally applying blasphemy laws to religious minorities, and to revoke the death penalty for blasphemy crimes?”

In addition to these inquiries, Mr. Chauprade pressed the Commission to describe what steps it is taking to protect religious minorities living under the threat of horrendous persecutions in Pakistan.

On the 17th of June, 2019 Vice-President Mogherini responded to these questions on behalf of the European Commission. In her response Ms. Mogherini emphasised the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), of which Pakistan is a signatory, and restated that adherence to the “provisions on freedom of religion or belief is an important element of the monitoring process under the Special Incentive Arrangement for Sustainable Development and Good Governance (GSP+).”

Her response went on to make note of a number of other agreements of which Pakistan and Europe have engaged in, such as the EU-Pakistan bilateral political contracts, and Pakistan’s National Action Plan for Human Rights. She also asserted that the mission of Ján Figel’, Special Envoy for the Promotion of Freedom of Religion or Belief outside the EU, in 2017 and 2018 to Pakistan, were important to engage with the Pakistani authorities on promoting the issue of tolerance towards free expression of religion and speech.

Finally, Ms. Mogherini stated that “the rights of religious minorities remain a priority in Pakistan’s National Action Plan for Human Rights. Important pieces of legislation such as the Christian Marriage and Divorce Acts are at an advanced stage of adoption. The EU also urges the swift approval and effective implementation of the draft interfaith harmony policy, actions against the misuse of blasphemy laws, as well as the empowering of the National Commission on Minorities.”

While Ms Mogerini’s claims made on behalf of the European Commission sound promising, the reality and evidence on the ground is quite different. Asia Bibi and her family have fled Pakistan and received asylum in Canada in order to live in safety. For the rest of Pakistan’s Christians and other minorities the persecutions remains unabated. There is no time to waste in addressing the abhorrent conditions that non-Muslim Pakistani citizens live under. It will take more than a bi-annual GSP+ report to improve the conditions of individuals living under this repressive regime. It is the EU’s responsibility to clearly communicate to Pakistan the unacceptability of these oppressive practices.

Source : https://eptoday.com/eu-parliament-calls-for-action-against-pakistans-blasphemy-laws/

comment closed