Over 200 people in prisons across Pakistan on blasphemy charges

    The government has informed a parliamentary body that 215 individuals had been arrested under blasphemy charges with the highest number of arrests made in Sindh, which was 78.

    A significant session of the Senate Standing Committee on Human Rights on October 13 considered multiple pressing issues, including the blasphemous act in Jaranwala, which led to the vandalisation of over 20 churches and almost 90 Christian houses.

    Members were informed that Khyber Pakhtunkhwa followed next with 55 people in prison in blasphemy cases, Punjab had 18 people in prison over similar charges while Balochistan had one. As many as 27 people were in prison in Islamabad.

    The meeting was informed that on August 16, a deliberate act intended to malign a local resident through the wrongful placement of blasphemous material near his home had triggered a devastating ripple effect. The incident was revealed to have stemmed from personal enmity and evolved into an egregious case of using blasphemy laws to target individuals.

    Alarmingly, such tactics were employed by Muslims against Muslims, Muslims against non-Muslims, and non-Muslims against non-Muslims, the meeting observed. The meeting was informed that in response to this tragic event, the police managed a swift evacuation, preventing any loss of life.

    However, there was a three-hour delay in police arrival on the scene, which contributed to the extensive property damage. The committee unanimously criticised the Punjab government for appearing indifferent to the emotional distress and social fabric upheaval caused by such loss.

    However, the meeting was informed that as a preventive measure, around 57 ‘Meesaq’ centres had been opened across Punjab districts to foster interfaith harmony and safeguard minority rights.

    Partnerships with the chamber of commerce were also being established to secure employment opportunities for the affected Christian community.

    Members observed that this was not the first incident of its kind. As reported by a minority member of the National Commission on Human Rights (NCHR), Jaranwala marked the eleventh significant episode since 1997 involving the persecution of the Christian community.

    Surprisingly, it was only now, after 26 years, that standard operating procedures were being formulated to prevent such occurrences.

    In a surprising revelation, NCHR Chairperson Rabiya Javeri Agha highlighted that 179 individuals were currently under trial on blasphemy charges across the country. The misuse of blasphemy laws to settle personal scores remained a significant concern.

    A decade-old legislative bill addressing the issue, proposed by Senator Sherry Rehman, might see the light of day again, with the senator possibly attending an upcoming committee meeting to provide insights, the members observed.

    Toward the meeting’s conclusion, the committee’s chairman Senator Walid Iqbal emphasised the need to counter society’s growing intolerance by incorporating teachings from the Quran, Sunnah and the country’s founding fathers regarding interfaith harmony into the education system.

    The attendees of this meeting included several senators, human rights secretaries, chairpersons of national commissions, police officers and other senior officials.

    The members asserted that the committee’s dedicated approach towards addressing these human rights concerns, if acted upon, could potentially bridge the growing divide in society and ensure a more harmonious and just environment for all its citizens.

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