Pakistan: Civil society organisations call for repeal of Blasphemy Laws

WLUML Networkers
Joint Action Committee (JAC) Press Statement.
Representatives of citizens of Lahore and Civil society organizations continue to be appalled at the rising incidents of false or flimsy allegations made of blasphemy against peaceful citizens. The incident at Gojra was the worst example of it where organized groups were allowed by the local administration to kill Christians. According to reliable reports the Christian population in Gojra continues to be threatened by members of Islamic militant groups and tension is once again building up. The government must act swiftly to ensure that Christians around Gojra are protected and have free access in getting their statements recorded before the judicial inquiry.
The killing of Najeeb Zafar in Muridke is another harrowing incident. There are others cases where at least two businessmen were falsely accused of producing goods that defiled the name of religion. Fatwas are obtained against companies and despite all undertaking religious zealots continue to threaten the proprietors of being killed. An old woman in Sindh was brutally murdered before proved guilty of any offence.

The spiraling violence in the name of religion is being perpetuated by organized groups in systematic manner. While these groups take refuge under the law of blasphemy and claim it their right to make allegations at random, yet they resort to taking the law in their own hands. Such intolerance is the result of decades of wrong policies where religious extremism is often patronized by the state. It is vital that the state remains neutral in matters of religion, which can only be achieved if the state distances itself from religion

The laws on blasphemy are a tool the hands of militants who exploit these easily to manipulate public sentiments for others they are a ready temptation of falsely accusing others of blasphemy to settle scores or to gain political mileage. These sections of the law have an element of persecution and must therefore be repealed. In the interim all allegations must the made by the administration rather than individuals and false accusations must be punished in equal measures. All trials be held in the high Courts and investigation be entrusted to senior police officers. Above all the governments must seriously consider legislation against those that incite violence or hostility towards anyone on the basis of religion.

Religious tensions and violence with continue to grow unless the government does not seriously dismantle militants, religious groups that are operating in the country with impunity. Their links within the military, the police force and with individuals in political parties should be investigated seriously.

A study of the incidents of violence following an accusation of blasphemy has shown that timely action by the administration could have saved many lives. The government should set up an early warning mechanism to prevent Gojra style tragedy in the future. It is now critical that the government invests in dealing with the menace of religious intolerance and immediate measures be taken in this direction. The mischievous role played by the local khatib of mosques can no longer be overlooked. The government must monitor the misuse of loudspeakers in the mosques and those violating the law must be brought to book and debarred from imamat in the mosques.

August 9, 2009, Lahore

Source: JAC