Pakistan’s religious minorities have demanded the government curb the misuse of the blasphemy laws and forced conversion of underage girls, as the country marked International Human Rights Day on Friday.
In a statement, Church of Pakistan Moderator/President Bishop Dr Azad Marshall condemned violence in the name of religion and demanded that State authorities should take practical measures to protect all citizens, especially members of the country’s vulnerable communities.
He said the gruesome murder of Sri Lankan national Priyantha Kumara on blasphemy allegations had once again brought the spotlight on the misuse of the blasphemy laws.
“We are deeply saddened by the unfortunate incident, and as Pakistanis, our heads hang in shame. Mr Kumara’s killing is not the first such incident carried out in the name of religion, therefore we demand the State authorities and the government to stop the misuse of the blasphemy law by cracking down on elements and groups that seek to sow discord in society,” he said.
He said that huge public outcry over the Sialkot incident showed that a majority of Pakistani citizens were concerned about the direction in which Pakistani society was headed.
“We appreciate the stance taken by Prime Minister Imran Khan, Chief of Army Staff General Qamar Javed Bajwa, government ministers and Islamic religious scholars but we expect that they will come up with a mechanism to stop these atrocities and make Pakistan safe for all,” he said.
Reiterating his suggestion for setting up a special task force comprising officials of the Pakistan Army and intelligence agencies to investigate blasphemy allegations, Bishop Marshall said the issue had gone beyond the control of the local police.
“Police cannot sustain pressure in blasphemy cases. If the task force comprising army officials finds the allegations false and clears the accused, I don’t think any religious party or group will have any objection to that. Similarly, any person found guilty of the charge should be proceeded against according to the law,” he said.
The senior church leader also criticised the government for ignoring leaderships of the religious minorities while formulating legislations pertaining to their communities.
“The government did not take us on board when it rejected the anti-forced conversion draft bill. It also ignored us in the drafting of the national curriculum. Has the government made sure that the new curriculum does not promote discrimination and hatred towards religious minorities?” he questioned.
The senior church leader said that religious minorities of Pakistan had always stood by the State but it was unfortunate that their voices were often ignored.
Separately, participants of a number of protest demonstrations held in various cities of Pakistan, including Karachi, Lahore, Islamabad, Sahiwal, Faisalabad, Vehari and Multan expressed grave concerns on the dismal situation of religious freedom and minority rights in Pakistan and called upon the urgent attention of the government, state institutions, political parties, and religious groups to pay serious attention to the brunt that religious minorities face.
In a statement issued on the occasion of international human rights day, the chairperson of the Voice for Justice, Joseph Jansen said that the imposition of the religious ideology of the Muslims on Non-Muslims citizens while introducing laws and policies is a highly discriminatory act by the government.
“The hiding of Prime Minister Imran Khan’s government behind Islamic values to prevent legislation against forced conversion, and brushing aside a pressing human rights concern as a non-issue, has damaged Pakistan’s reputation,” he said.
He raised concerns over the non-consideration of the Prohibition of Forced Conversions Bill, 2021 for further deliberation and amendments by the parliamentary committee, ignoring the facts on the ground as well as the judgements given by courts which have declared the practice of forced conversions against the right to religious freedom, and have ruled that minor children lack the legal capacity to enter into marriages and to change the religion on their own.
Meanwhile, in his message on Human Rights Day, President Dr Arif Alvi said the Constitution of Pakistan guarantees freedom to its citizens regardless of their caste, colour or creed.
He said the government will continue making efforts to safeguard freedom, liberty, dignity and self-esteem of every citizen of the state.
Minister for Human Rights Dr Shireen Mazari, in her message, claimed that the government has moved beyond rhetoric and proactively removed the barriers faced by marginalized groups.
Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi in his message said Universal Declaration on Human Rights is a beacon of light and a moral compass for states, societies and communities to promote and protect rights, freedoms, and dignity of every human being, without any distinction.
Chairperson of the National Commission on the Status of Women Nilofar Bakhtiar urged the international community to hold India accountable for its massive state-sponsored human rights violations, girls and women persecution in Indian-Occupied Jammu and Kashmir.
In her message on the International Human Rights Day, she lamented that the world raised its voice for women all over the world, but it remained silent on the Indian oppression of Kashmiri women, girls and children of IIOJK.
Bakhtiar saluted Kashmiri women for their courageous stand against the oppression of the Indian Army.
She regretted a huge number of women and children were also assaulted by the Indian soldiers. But the civilized world remains silent on such human rights violations, she added.