ISLAMABAD, Pakistan: The Civil Society has urged the government to strengthen laws, policies, and actions to protect minorities against human rights violations, and take serious steps to stop forced faith conversions, and prevent the misuse of blasphemy laws.
This was emphasized by the participants of the consultation meeting called to observe National Minorities Day on Friday under the aegis of the Voice for Justice, a human rights body striving to advance religious freedom.
The Chairperson of the Voice for Justice Joseph Jansen noted that religion is misinterpreted and blasphemy laws are misused for political motives by certain elements which resort to violence to influence policymaking, however, the state remains insensitive and society largely is unaware of the cost of such a skewed polity.
Joseph Jansen lamented that the parliament passed an amendment act to increase punishment for the accused under section 298-A, which will surely open avenues for its further abuse, allowing complainants to make fabricated blasphemy accusations against individuals they had grudge against. He added that existing blasphemy laws serve as a firewood plank for some religio-political groups to facilitate and perpetrate acts of violence against the accused on the mere accusation of blasphemy.
The Chairperson of the Voice for Justice expressed concerns over the including the charge under section 7 of the Anti-Terrorism Act against blasphemy accused in addition to Section 295-C of the Pakistan Penal Code under the influence of religio-political party is a dangerous practice, and it will make the blasphemy accused more vulnerable, and fuel mob justice.
A rights activist Nadia Stephen said that the right to religious freedom prohibits the use of coercion to make someone change their religion, and forced conversion is a distressing reality in Pakistan.
Nadia Stephen demanded that the political parties must introduce a comprehensive law to criminalize forced faith conversions to bring perpetrators to justice for their crimes involving child marriage, forced conversion, and sexual violence of minority girls.
A human rights defender Ashiknaz Khokhar said that the government introduced stern blasphemy laws to target sectarian and religious minorities, which led to causing intolerance and extremism in the country. He added that the government must take action against the people who take the law into their own hands and attack the accused without proper investigation.
Ashiknaz Khokhar added that the United Nations’ Human Rights Committee has called upon all states to repeal blasphemy laws or amend them in compliance with the strict requirements of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (CCPR), therefore, the government should create room to discuss this issue in a serious manner, as Pakistan is the most affected country by these laws.
Ilyas Samuel said that the religious identity of the state is problematic for creating a tolerant society and serves as a tool for religio-political groups to influence the government to introduce public policies to serve their interests, and contribute to causing religion-based discrimination, intolerance, and violence in society. He added that religious intolerance is enabled in Pakistan and sometimes even encouraged by discriminatory laws and policies which violate the foundational principle of any democratic state and equal citizenship. The government needs to address discrimination in laws to ensure equal treatment and protection for all citizens.
Aneel Edger emphasized that Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah in his address to the constituent assembly on 11th August 1947 declared the protection of minorities’ rights a distinct duty of the state and made a pledge to promote religious freedom and tolerance, equality and non-discrimination for all.
Aneel Edger demanded that the government must take effective measures to address the dynamics and the impact of discrimination, exclusion, and inequalities, in order to reduce the exposure of minorities to persecution, insecurity, and violence.