UK NGO's Praise EU Resolution on Religious Freedom in Pakistan

A resolution passed by the European Parliament in May that calls for investigation into Pakistan's blasphemy laws has been praised by several British non-profits.

The resolution, passed on May 20, expresses "deep concern" over the laws which are often "misused by extremist groups and those wishing to settle personal scores."

The controversial laws, which can carry the death sentence, are "often used to justify censorship, criminalisation, persecution and, in certain cases, the murder of members of political, racial and religious minorities," particularly "Ahmadis, but also Christians, Hindus, Sikhs, Shiites, Buddhists, Parsis, Bahais and critical citizens who dare to raise their voice against injustice," the parliament's statement said.

More than 600 people have been charged under Pakistan's blasphemy laws since the 1980's, over half of them non-Muslims.

Much of the worst discrimination involving the laws, however, happens outside of the courtroom with individuals using the laws to justify murder and harassment.

In August 2009, a factory owner and two others were killed by a mob led by the factory's employees under the guise of upholding the law.

The employees accused the owner of blasphemy because he placed an outdated calendar on a table that contained verses from the Quran.

A month earlier, eight Christians were killed and their homes set on fire in the city of Gojra as punishment for alleged blasphemy.

And while the Pakistani government has taken some steps towards securing equal rights for the country's minorities, such as granting property rights to minorities who live in slums, the European Parliament says that such initiatives are not enough to deny reports from independent agencies which "reveal that minorities in Pakistan are deprived of basic civil liberties and equal opportunities in jobs, education and political representation."

Stuart Windsor, national director of Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW), welcomed the resolution, saying that it "strikes an effective balance between recognising progress, and making necessary calls for further action."

"We believe that nothing less than full repeal of the blasphemy laws will end their misuse, but the European Parliament's call for review and amendment is an important first step in this direction," he said. "We welcome the fact that the resolution recognises the need to place freedom of religion at the heart of EU dialogue with Pakistan, including in the context of counter-terrorism discussions."

Nasir Saeed, director for the Centre for Legal Aid Assistance & Settlement (CLAAS), called the resolution "great news" and an "encouragement to CLAAS and other organisations like us who are working towards a common goal – that of seeing the blasphemy laws repealed and equality for religious minorities become a reality in Pakistan."

Saeed noted, however, that the resolution is only a beginning point for securing full rights for Christians and other religious minorities in the country.

"Although this resolution is a very important and significant step for our work, we still have a lot of work to do before Christians in Pakistan can really say they are free to live and worship as Christians," he said.

"As much as we can work towards this goal, the Pakistani government needs to start taking the necessary steps to grant equal rights to all of its citizens, and not simply those who belong to its favoured religion," he added. "Repealing the blasphemy laws would be an obvious first step."

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