CSOs demand Commission of Inquiry on issue of blasphemy laws

NationalCSOs demand Commission of Inquiry on issue of blasphemy laws

LAHORE, Pakistan: A Conference was held in Lahore with the theme “Addressing Religiously Motivated Violence” in which the participants called on the government to immediately establish a Commission of Inquiry to probe into the factors behind escalating violence, particularly the abuse of Sections 295-A, B, and C and 298-A, B, and C, and determine the scale of abuse, identify contributing factors, propose remedies, and way out of this situation.

The speakers at the Conference highlighted the organic link between pervasive religious intolerance and certain lopsided policies and laws, most notably blasphemy laws.

The Centre for Social Justice (CSJ) which has been collecting data for several years, presented an assessment of crimes against religious minorities and the recent developments including a factsheet on the abuse of blasphemy laws.

The Conference welcomed the passage of resolutions by the National Assembly, Senate, and Punjab Assembly condemning violence in the name of religion and supporting the right to life, following incidents of mob violence in Sargodha and Swat.CSOs demand Commission of Inquiry on issue of blasphemy laws

The speakers including Peter Jacob, Nadeem Ashraf, Ijaz Alam Augustine, Arafat Mazhar, Asad Jamal Advocate, Moulana Mehmood Ghaznavi, Samson Salamat, Bishop Abraham Daniel, Maheen Paracha, Salman Farooq, Michelle Chaudhry, Suneel Malik, Kashif Aslam, Tayyaba Rafiq and Yasar Talib demanded the government introduce safeguards against the abuse of blasphemy laws and prosecute and punish the perpetrators who use allegations of blasphemy to incite violence.

The Executive Director of Centre for Social Justice (CSJ) Peter Jacob stated that Pakistan’s blasphemy laws have been grossly abused, with many lodging false complaints against innocent individuals to settle personal scores. These incidents have fostered a climate of religiously motivated violence and persecution in several parts of Pakistan.

The former Minister for Human Rights Ijaz Alam Augustine said that all stakeholders including academics, religious leaders, politicians, and civil society need to engage in dialogue to address violence in the name of religion. He added that those making false accusations of blasphemy must be brought to justice, with existing safeguards implemented.

Asad Jamad said that the misuse of blasphemy laws instills terror and fear among vulnerable groups. He noted that the infrastructure of violence, involving human power, loudspeakers, and extremist groups, operates at the community level, and must be effectively addressed.

Arafat Mazhar stressed that the intention of the accused must be considered during investigations and trials to prevent the continued imprisonment of innocent individuals due to the misuse of blasphemy laws by certain groups which remain unpunished despite making false accusations.

Moulana Mehmood Ghaznavi said that the groups involved in violence in the name of religion often take the law into their hands, acting as judges, police, and hangman. He added that killing a person does not guarantee entry for an individual or group to paradise, therefore, citizens must understand that certain groups manipulate their emotions for personal gain.

The Punjab Member National Commission for Human Rights (NCHR) Nadeem Ashraf stated that every individual, regardless of religion, ethnicity, or social status, is entitled to the right to life, liberty, and security as guaranteed under Articles 9 and 14 of the Constitution of Pakistan.

Furthermore, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Pakistan is a party, obligate the state to protect these fundamental rights and prevent extrajudicial killings.

Maheen Paracha said that prompt police action and evidence preservation are crucial in delivering justice and keeping the communities safe. She urged the authorities to take their responsibilities seriously and act decisively in such cases.

Michelle Chaudhary stated that the victims of blasphemy allegations and their families have suffered unimaginable trauma, ranging from physical violence to social ostracism and emotional distress. She called for collective responsibility in providing support and justice to these individuals.

The participants made the following specific recommendations about establishing the Commission Inquiry:

  1. The Commission should take into account various judgments delivered by the Higher and Superior Courts, including the recommendations of the Judicial Inquiry into the incidents of Shanti Nagar-Khanewal (1997) and Gojra-Toba Tek Singh (2009) and the bill to amend laws moved by Senator Sherry Rehman (2010).
  2. The Commission of Inquiry should present its report to the parliament and public at large within six months, including recommendations regarding legal, administrative, and educational measures for introducing effective safeguards to prevent the use or abuse of blasphemy laws.
  3. Provide reparations to innocent victims wrongly accused of blasphemy. Moreover, prosecute and punish the perpetrators for abusing the blasphemy laws and inciting people to violence.
  4. Ensure adequate protection for the accused, including judges, prosecutors, lawyers, and witnesses in cases involving blasphemy charges.
  5. Investigate the role of FIA in the registration of false complaints against hundreds of accused in recent years and reconsider the role of Anti-Terrorism Courts in the trial of blasphemy and cases of mob violence. Anyhow, CSJ does not recommend the creation of special procedures/courts, these cases should be tried in normal courts with guarantees for fair trial.
  6. Furthermore, the initiative of imposition of an Education Emergency should prioritize the elimination of multiple discrimination on the basis of religion in the education system.
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