Blasphemy is a hugely sensitive charge in conservative Muslim Pakistan and can carry the death penalty. Even unproven allegations can cause mob lynchings and violence. Photograph:( Zee News Network )
The European Parliament adopted a resolution demanding Pakistan to allow space for religious freedom and urged the EU authorities to review GSP (Generalised Scheme of Preferences) plus status for Pakistan
The European Union has raised concerns over Pakistan`s harsh blasphemy laws as they are "often misused to silence opponents and their defenders and to discriminate against religious minorities" and pointed Ahmadi Muslims are probably the most at risk.
The European Parliament, in its latest session on Thursday, adopted a resolution demanding Pakistan to allow space for religious freedom and urged the EU authorities to review GSP (Generalised Scheme of Preferences) plus status for Pakistan amid the increasing number of blasphemy cases.
The Christian couple Shagufta Kausar and her husband Shafqat Emmanuel, whose lower body is paralysed for the past many years, were falsely accused of committing blasphemy by sending a blasphemous SMS to a Muslim person in 2013 in district Toba Tek Singh.
"Pakistan's blasphemy laws carry very harsh sentences, including the death penalty, which the European Union strongly opposes, under any circumstances," said Oliver Varhelyi, Commissioner for Neighbourhood and Enlargement.
"They are often misused to silence opponents and their defenders and to discriminate against religious minorities, with severe negative effects on the rights to freedom of expression and freedom of religion or belief. Ahmadi Muslims are probably the most at risk," he added.
The Generalised Scheme of Preferences Plus, the GSP+, granted to Pakistan requires to demonstrate progress on the implementation of the 27 international core conventions. And it constitutes strong leverage for the European Union in terms of monitoring any direct advocacy with Pakistan.
"The tragic cases of individuals on death row because of blasphemy accusations also point to the structural weaknesses of the Pakistani judicial system and the unequal access to justice," the commissioner said.
He said that the European Union is strongly engaged in promoting and protecting human rights.
"We are providing support to Pakistan to strengthen the rule of law and access to justice and to legal representation... The European Union will continue our regular dialogue on human rights with the government of Pakistan and that the particular issues of blasphemy laws and the death penalty remain important points on our agenda," the commissoner said further.
Recently, a board member of ACAT (the Action of Christians for the Abolition of Torture), Belgium-based organisation working for the betterment of Christians worldwide, wrote a letter to Pakistan PM Imran Khan drawing attention to the case of Shafqat Emmanuel and Shagufta Kausar, a Christian couple convicted of "blasphemy" and sentenced to death in 2014 for allegedly sending "blasphemous" text messages to the Imam of a mosque, reported Pentapostagma.
According to the October 2019 report of the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom, at least 80 people have been convicted of blasphemy in Pakistan and many of them face the death penalty.
In December 2020, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a resolution calling the worldwide repeal of blasphemy, heresy and apostasy laws, some of which have resulted in the imprisonment and/or deaths of Christians accused of speaking against Islam.
Pakistan's blasphemy laws, both in content and application, are contrary to Pakistan's human rights obligations to respect and protect the right to life, freedom of thought, conscience and religion or belief, freedom of opinion and expression, equality before the law, prohibition of discrimination and the right to life.
These blasphemy laws violate Article 6(1) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights that states that the automatic and mandatory death penalty constitutes an arbitrary deprivation of life.
Therefore, these laws do not comply with human rights law and standards, nor do they contain basic safeguards to limit the risk of further human rights violations and abuses, and are emblematic of the dangers faced by religious minorities in the country, wrote Pentapostagma.