LAHORE, Pakistan: The Centre for Social Justice (CSJ) has issued the “Human Rights Observer 2023”, an annual factsheet which covers five key issues impacting religious minorities, i.e. 1) discrimination in the education system, 2) Prevalence of forced faith conversions, 3) Abuse of blasphemy laws, 4) Establishment of the National Commission for Minorities, and 5) Jail remissions for minority prisoners.
The CSJ’s factsheet shows the increasing religious content in curriculum and textbooks, and a number of perennial and new challenges in the education system during 2022.
The factsheet informs that at least 171 persons had been accused under the blasphemy laws, out of these over 65% of cases surfaced in Punjab province, followed by 19% in Sindh. The highest occurrence was observed in the districts of Karachi, followed by Chiniot, Faisalabad, Gujranwala, Dera Ghazi Khan, Nankana Sahib, Lahore and Sheikhupura. The highest number of victims (88) were Muslims followed by 75 Ahmadis, four Christians, and two Hindus while the religious identity of the two accused could not be ascertained. Four accused were extra-judicially killed, two in Punjab and one each in Sindh and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa in 2022 which brings the number of extra-judicial killings of the accused to 88 persons in total during the period from 1987 to 2022.
At least 2,120 persons had been accused of committing blasphemy between 1987 and 2022. The trend witnessed an increase in the aggregate abuse of blasphemy laws in Punjab in the past 36 years, above 75%. However, 52% of the accused belonged to minorities despite their small ratio (3.52%) in the population of Pakistan.
The factsheet analyzed 124 reported incidents of forced faith conversions involving girls /women from minority communities which included 81 Hindu, 42 Christian, and one Sikh. 23% of girls were below 14 years of age, 36% of them were between the age of 14 and 18 years, and only 12% of the victims were adults, while the age of 28% of the victims was not reported. 65% of cases of forced faith conversions were reported in Sindh, followed by 33% in Punjab, and 0.8% each in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan.
The establishment of the statutory National Commission for Minorities (NCM) remained pending. A weak and lopsided draft is now presented in the Parliament in March 2023 which might become a reason for further delay and the ultimate establishment of the NCM.
The factsheet stated that no progress was made regarding providing remission to minority prisoners during 2022 despite the fact that this concession is available for Muslim prisoners since 1978.
The Editor of the Human Rights Observer and Executive Director at the Centre for Social Justice (CSJ) Peter Jacob said that the annual factsheet carries recommendations to address the issues along with practical steps for the realization and protection of the rights of minorities, and urged the government to take stock of these issues and enforce the human rights of minorities.