ISLAMABAD, Pakistan: In a seminar, the Centre for Social Justice (CSJ) has launched a human rights observer which covers the key issues impacting religious minorities, i.e. misuse of blasphemy laws, forced conversions, representation in population census, and biased educational system.
The speakers at the launch discussion on CSJ’s factsheet ‘Human Rights Observer 2021’ raised their concerns over the scale of religious content introduced in curriculum and textbooks, abuse of blasphemy law, forced conversions and the declining population of religious minorities in Pakistan, resulting in demoralization of numbers of minorities.
The Executive Director of the Centre for Social Justice Peter Jacob said there were several other issues of concern, such as dismal progress on the implementation of Supreme Court judgment regarding rights of religious minorities, recorded in the assessment (Justice Yet Afar) by Centre for Social Justice (CSJ), implementation of job quota and educational quota, and the setting up an ineffective National Commission for Minorities. However, the focus of this paper is limited.
While, presenting the following data of religion based violence during 2021, he said that at least 84 persons had been accused under the blasphemy laws. Three persons were extrajudicial killed including the lynching of Mr. Priyanka Kumara in Sialkot.
In 2020, the highest number of reported cases was against Shia Muslims (140 out of 209) in the districts of Chakwal and Chiniot, which are the strongholds of two sectarian organizations, while the highest number was recorded in Shiekhupura (13) in 2021 followed by Lahore (11) and Kasur (10), all districts of Northern Punjab. Over 80% incidence during 2021 had surfaced in Punjab province.
During 2021, the highest number of victims (45) belonged to Muslim faith identity followed by Ahmadis (25) while seven each were from Hindu and Christian communities. However, the minorities were affected by the abuse (over 46%) more than their share in the population which is 3.5%.
The qualitative indicators such as; the harassment of entire minority settlements, for instance, attack on a Hindu temple at Bhong, Punjab in August 2021 manifest the severe repercussions of allegations against the minority population in particular.
The number of incidents surged once again in 2021 to at least 78 reported cases which should be treated as forced or questionable conversions, according to the working definition adopted by the 11 CSJ. Hence, the year under review saw an upsurge of 80% as compared to 2020 and 50% as compared to 2019.
78 cases, the involuntary and forced conversions included 39 Hindu, 38 Christian, and one Sikh girls/ women were reported in 2021.
76% of the victims were minors (below 18 years of age), furthermore, the age of 18% was not mentioned, therefore there is reason to suspects that these may be also minors. Notably, 33% of victims were 14 years of age or below. Hence only 6% were confirmed major or above 18 years of age.
40 cases were reported in Sindh, and 36 in Punjab, while one case each was reported in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan.
The speakers urged the civil society, political actors, religious leaders and rights-holders to go beyond the ceremonial condemnation, and take action against the actors involved in hate crimes and provoking people to take the law in their hands. The participants emphasized the need for a comprehensive National Action Plan to counter religious extremism and intolerance.
Make a realistic assessment of the implementation plan for the census, and postpone data collection till April 2023 in order to ensure that proper preparation is in place. Avoid passing any legislation, policy measures in haste and without due consultation with relevant stakeholders in the province including civil society and opposition political parties.
They demanded the government to bring legislation to introduce safeguards against the abuse of blasphemy laws and prosecute and punish the perpetrators using concocted allegations of blasphemy and incitement to violence. Introduce comprehensive law against forced conversions, apprehend and bring the perpetrators involved to justice and for the ongoing cases, the police, administration, and judicial officers should use the existing protections in the law to prevent the miscarriage of justice.