By Kashif Nawab
The European Pakistani Christian Action Committee staged a protest demonstration outside the European Parliament. Issues that were raised include the abuse of blasphemy laws, a culture of impunity, discrimination, incitement of violence in the name of religion, and coerced faith conversions and forced child marriages of Christian and Hindu girls in Pakistan. Protesters expressed grave concerns over religious freedom violations, and called upon the European Union to encourage Pakistan to comply with its human rights obligations under the Generalized System of Preferences (GSP) Plus status.
Charlie weimer, member of the European parliament from Sweden, attended the demonstration and strongly condemned forced conversion and child marriage of Christians girls in pakistan. He also called for the unconditional release of Anwar Kenneth, Shagufta Kiran and others who unfairly are in prison due to blasphemy laws. Weimer stated that Islamism and blasphemy laws are a direct threat to our safety and freedom of religion. Weimer warns that in pakistan islamists flood the streets and seek the death and persecution of those who do not adhere to their ideology. He has witnessed the rise of similar threats in Europe.
Speaking at the protest, Joseph Jansen, advocacy officer with Jubilee Campaign Netherlands, emphasized the EU’s responsibility to assess Pakistan’s progress in implementing 27 international treaties under the GSP+ mechanism, a trade concession enjoyed by Pakistan since 2014. Jansen stressed that Pakistan, as a beneficiary of GSP+ status, must make genuine efforts to improve the state of freedom of expression and freedom of religion. He called for constructive dialogue between the Pakistani government and the European Union contributing to progress in upholding religious freedom and fulfilling human rights obligations.
Jansen added that dozens of persons have been extra-judicially killed, and minorities have been attacked multiple times on the pretext of blasphemy accusations. He urged the EU parliament to pass a resolution urging Pakistan to take meaningful action to criminalize acts of forced conversion and child marriage. He further urged to organize a visit by European Parliamentarians to Pakistan to engage with key stakeholders, including key leaders of political parties, the Chief Justice of Pakistan, the Chief of Army Staff, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and National Human Rights Institutions, to hold meaningful discussions about improving religious freedom conditions in Pakistan.
The committee highlighted the case of Anwar Kenneth, a Christian man sentenced to death for over 22 years under blasphemy charges section 295-C of the Pakistan Penal Code who recently filed an appeal in the Supreme Court of Pakistan, aiming to overturn his conviction. The committee demands his immediate acquittal and release from the Pakistani government without imposing any conditions.
Pastor Ghazala Shafique said that it is deeply disturbing that the government of Pakistan has failed to curb the abuse of blasphemy law and to prevent vigilant justice. FIRs should be registered with the approval of the Magistrate after a preliminary inquiry. She also stressed that children should not need to file a Suit for jactitation or any separate case to have a child marriage declared void. She added that the coerced faith conversions and child marriages of minority girls are facilitated by Muslim religious clerics, political leaders, police, and judges. These conversions are often justified by the promise of heavenly rewards in the afterlife, according to Islamic beliefs.
Asif Mall CEO of human rights organization said that the fabricated blasphemy accusations, pre-trial detentions, unfair prosecution, continuous threats, and deliberate incitement to violence against minorities, have created a social and religious apartheid for minorities in Pakistan, leaving them intimidated, and relocated. He emphasized that Pakistan has not taken any measures to amend or repeal blasphemy laws. On the contrary, it has introduced regressive developments including; the trial of blasphemy cases in anti-terrorism courts.
Pastor Justin Bhatti said that tangible changes are needed for a safer Pakistan for religious minorities and he hopes that the EU will use its leverage to make this change happen. He feared that the connection between blasphemy laws and mob violence poses a serious threat to the lives of religious minorities. The magnitude and intensity of attacks against minorities in Pakistan are unacceptable. It is imperative for Pakistani authorities to take genuine steps to safeguard at-risk Christians, suppress violence, and ensure that those responsible for acts of religious persecution are brought to justice.
Chaudhary Khalid highlighted that the Human Rights Committee of the United Nations has urged all states to either repeal or modify blasphemy laws in accordance with the stringent criteria outlined in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (CCPR). Additionally, in 2021, the European Parliament passed a resolution urging Pakistan to revoke sections 295-B and 295-C of the PPC, aiming to uphold freedom of religion and expression. The resolution also called for amendments to the Anti-Terrorism Act 1997 to prevent the trial of blasphemy cases in anti-terrorism courts. Despite these calls, Pakistan failed to making any progress to address the concerns raised by CSOs, minorities and international community.
The demonstration was marked by speeches, placards, and chants demanding justice for victims of the Jaranwala attack on Christians and calling for reforms in the Pakistani legal system. The protesters demanded that Pakistan must consider amending all blasphemy laws to introduce impregnable and effective safeguards, remove restrictions on religious freedom, and ensure that the accused of blasphemy are not tried under the anti-terrorism laws, and laws are introduced to criminalized coerced faith conversion of minority girls and women in Pakistan.