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EuropeEuropean Parliament Condemns Pakistan’s Blasphemy Laws

European Parliament Condemns Pakistan’s Blasphemy Laws

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On April 28, 2021, the European Parliament adopted a joint motion for a resolution on the blasphemy laws in Pakistan calling for more comprehensive approaches to address the abuses of blasphemy laws in Pakistan. 

The motion refers to two specific cases, those of Shagufta Kausar and Shafqat Emmanuel. They are a Pakistani Christian couple convicted of blasphemy by a Pakistani court, and sentenced to death by hanging back in 2013. They are alleged to have sent a blasphemous message against the Prophet. Despite the couple being illiterate and the message being in English, the couple did not stand a chance of succeeding in their defense against the dangerous blasphemy provisions and a failed legal system. In 2014, they appealed, however, the High Court of Lahore has since postponed the trial. Both suffer from medical conditions, Shafqat Emmanuel from damage to his spinal cord and Shagufta Kausar from depression. They are not provided with any adequate medical assistance. 

Understandably, their cases are not the only ones. The Centre for Social Justice in Pakistan reports that at least 1,855 people have been charged under the blasphemy laws between 1987 and February 2021, with a significant spike in 2020. 

Blasphemy laws seek to restrict any speech that may be perceived as offensive to Prophets and holy personages. Despite a global movement to abolish blasphemy laws, many countries maintain these laws. In fact, at least thirteen countries sentence the death penalty for offenses committed in contravention of blasphemy laws. Blasphemy laws have always been problematic as they rely on the notion of causing offense, which is subjective and vague. Blasphemy laws are based on the notion of statements outraging religious feelings and representations insulting the religion or religious beliefs. Both outrage and insult are inexact concepts which create legal uncertainty and encourage an unhelpful degree of subjectivity.

Apart from being subjective in nature, what is also glaring is that despite the fact that blasphemy laws tend to apply to all religions, they are being disproportionally used against religious minorities in states where such laws exist. Public support for strict blasphemy laws in Pakistan is reportedly strong. However, it is clear that those who are calling for strict blasphemy laws are unlikely to ever have to face the charges of blasphemy. The majority of those convicted under blasphemy laws are minorities, especially Ahmadiyya and Christian minorities. The targeting of religious minorities confirms the numerous problems posed by blasphemy laws. They are not being used to prosecute genuine claims of blasphemy but are instead used to persecute religious minorities for daring to live in accordance with their religious beliefs. 

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In Pakistan, blasphemy laws have often been used by groups of mobs to exact extrajudicial justice. Reports suggest that, since 1990, at least 80 people have been killed in Pakistan over claims of blasphemy. Among others, in April 2017, Mashal Khan, a Muslim student, was killed by an angry mob following allegations that he posted blasphemous content online. In 2014, a Christian couple in Kot Radha Kishan were reportedly beaten to death and burnt by a crowd of over a thousand people for allegedly desecrating the Quran. 

Furthermore, anyone who tries to help those charged with blasphemy, are also subjected to threats and violence. Shahbaz Bhatti, a Christian Minister, was killed in an ambush for attempting to reform the blasphemy law. The house of Shahbaz Gurmani, a lawyer defending a university lecturer accused of blasphemy, Junaid Hafeez, was raided by gunmen on motorcycles warning him to withdraw from the case. The lawyer of Asia Bibi, Saif-ul-Mulook, had to flee the country in fear of his life.

Such attacks are also common online, particularly, on journalists, academics and civil society organizations. 

The situation did not change, as one would have hoped, with Imran Khan becoming the Prime Minister. To the contrary, reportedly, Imran Khan has been calling for the introduction of blasphemy laws in other countries. He is reported to say that “Together, we should ask Europe, the European Union and United Nations to stop hurting the feelings of 1.25 billion Muslim like they do not do in case of Jews. (…) I want the Muslim countries to devise a joint line of action over the blasphemy issue with a warning of trade boycott of countries where such incidents will happen. This will be the most effective way to achieve the goal.”  

Considering how dangerous blasphemy laws are in Pakistan, it would be a significant damage to human rights of all to have such provisions adopted in other countries, as reportedly proposed by Imran Khan. The case of Pakistan is a clear warning of the dangers of blasphemy laws.

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