ISLAMABAD, Pakistan: The human rights activists have expressed their grave concerns over USCIRF’s recommendation for Pakistan’s designation as the Country of Particular Concern for the fourth time in a row, for not taking effective measures to address religious freedom violations including the mob violence and extra-judicial killings in the name of religion.
They have urged the federal and provincial governments to introduce measures to prevent acts of discrimination and violence against religious communities, and adopt policy reforms to promote tolerance and diversity.
The Chairperson of the Voice for Justice Joseph Jansen said that the religious freedom conditions in Pakistan show negative trends as we have witnessed dozens of incidents of mob violence, misuse of blasphemy laws, forced conversions, and desecration of worship places.
Joseph Jansen noted that the violence in the name of religion is increasing due to a lack of the government’s capacity to de-radicalize citizens despite it should have been the priority agenda being a commitment to National Action Plan 2014 to counter-terrorism. He observed that the timely action by law enforcement in the cases involving blasphemy accusations can help prevent mob violence and save lives, which is only possible if the police dispense its responsibility of maintaining law and order, and protecting the accused from extra-judicial killings.
Asif Bastian said that it is lamentable that mere accusations of blasphemy became a justification for killing a blasphemer without any investigation as evidenced in the lynching of a Priyantha Kumara Diyawadana in Sialkot on 3 December 2021, the lynching of Mushtaq Ahmed, a person with mental health challenges in Khanewal on 11 February 2022, and the killing of a seminary teacher, Safoora Bibi in Dera Ismail Khan on 29 March 2022. This trend of mob justice must be discouraged to develop a law-abiding and tolerant society.
Carol Nadeem welcomed the anti-terrorism court’s verdict in the case of Priyantha Kumara’s lynching on the false allegation of blasphemy that sentenced six culprits to death, nine to life imprisonment and 73 were given jail terms of two to five years. The conviction of 88 accused, including eight juvenile, in this case, will set a precedent that no one is above the law, and no one is permitted to spread hatred, and take the law into one’s hands, resorting to religion as a shield. The citizens of Pakistan must avoid engaging in violent acts on the provocation by actors involved in promoting a narrative, dangerous to the social cohesion among different groups in Pakistan.
Ilyas Samuel said that it is sad that those accused of blasphemy have to face life-long imprisonment with limited opportunity for bail, even if they are not mentally sound as witnessed in the case of Stephen Masih who is behind the bars for over three years in Pakistan despite the reports of the medical board at the Punjab Institute of Medical Health stating that he suffers from Bipolar Affective Disorder, and he is mentally unfit to stand trial. He demanded that the honorable courts should drop all charges against Stephen Masih on account of false accusation, and his psychosocial disability and health condition.
Ashiknaz Khokhar said that the government needs to take measures to deal with the underlying factors that fuel mob mentality and extremism in the society and motivate citizens to take lives in the name of religion. He demanded that the government needs to take radical steps to stop the misuse of blasphemy laws, protect the victims against mob violence, and enforce the existing provisions to punish all those who indulge in false accusations and resort to violence.