Experts urge govt stakeholders to strengthen legal safeguards to implement religious freedom

NationalExperts urge govt stakeholders to strengthen legal safeguards to implement religious freedom

LAHORE, Pakistan: A panel discussion on the theme “The Scope of Article 20 and the Constitution of Pakistan and Practices” involving renowned jurists, journalists and human rights activists including Peter Jacob, Saroop Ijaz Advocate and Benazir Shah was held at Lahore.

The discussion was joined by law students, journalists, jurists, human rights activists and academics from all across Pakistan. Suneel Malik moderated the panel discussion while Faaria Khan presented the introduction to the event, and Award-winning documentary film on Human Rights.Experts urge govt stakeholders to strengthen legal safeguards to implement religious freedom


The panel discussion is an integral part of a three-day National Moot Court Competition 2023 on the topic “Rights of Religious Minorities and forced faith conversion in Pakistan”, which is being organized in collaboration between Centre for Social Justice and Blackstone School of Law and Business from 15th to 17th December in Lahore.

Speaking on the occasion, Peter Jacob, the executive director at Centre for Social Justice (CSJ) spoke about the Article 20 of the Constitution of Pakistan and its intersection with Article 18 of the international instruments; UDHR and ICCPR. He raised the question that why does the Constitution of Pakistan miss out on the word ‘conscience’? Two main issues that he talked about were the absoluteness of Freedom of Religion and Operationalization of Freedom of Religion. He also spoke about the Jillani Judgment and how it elaborates on the Article 20 of the Constitution of Pakistan.

Saroop Ijaz Advocate said that forced conversion not only violates constitutional protections and international standards for freedom of religion, conscience and belief, but also the basic guarantee of equality of citizenship which is the basic norm of any democratic state and is non-negotiable. He referred to Jillani judgment (SMC No. 1 of 2024), where court held that Article 20 of the constitution of Pakistan guarantees religious freedom to all citizens equally, and it should be interpreted in line with the religious identity of the individuals involved.

A journalist and analyst, Benazir Shah said that diverse groups should be able to voice their opinions in an inclusive democracy. In Pakistan, religious minorities are often underrepresented or missing from mainstream debates in the media. When minorities do receive coverage, they are more often portrayed as victims.  It is important for the media – both print and television – to include the voice of religious minorities in their coverage of political, economic and other events in Pakistan. This is even more essential at a time when Pakistan is headed towards general election 2024. The media should also review its policies regarding certain religious communities whose places of worship were constantly targeted this year yet these attacks receive scant coverage in conventional media.

The panelists noted that textbooks developed under single national curriculum of subjects: English, Urdu, and Social Science carry religious content, which should not be taught to religious minorities as guaranteed in Article 22(1) of the Constitution of Pakistan.

At this juncture, CSJ’s documentary film ‘Hum Saya- Neighbor’ which won the Award for Best Short Documentary on Human Rights at the prestigious Venice Intercultural Film Festival in 2023 was also screened that narrate the stories of families whose young daughters had been abducted and forcibly converted.

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