UN Side Event Addresses Religious Detentions In Pakistan: Calls For Urgent Reforms – OpEd


Jubilee Campaign, a prominent human rights advocacy group, hosted a pivotal side event titled ‘Faith in Captivity: Arbitrary Detention in the Name of Religion in Pakistan’ during the 54th session of the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva. The event served as a critical platform to amplify urgent concerns regarding arbitrary detention and blasphemy laws in Pakistan, emphasizing the pressing need for legal and administrative reforms to safeguard fundamental human rights.

Joseph Jansen, an esteemed advocacy officer with Jubilee Campaign, brought attention to the severe issue of arbitrary detention as a fundamental violation of human rights. Individuals suffer a loss of their inherent rights, including freedom of expression, freedom of religion, dignity, and due process of law when subjected to arbitrary detention. Mr. Jansen shed light on the prevalent practice in Pakistan where individuals face detention without clear charges, arrest warrants, proper legal representation, or a fair trial, leaving them isolated and imprisoned for extended periods.

Mr. Jansen underscored the inherent discrimination ingrained in Pakistan’s blasphemy laws, ostensibly designed to support the official religion of Islam. These laws impose harsh penalties disproportionate to the alleged damage caused, often resulting in the imprisonment of the accused without sufficient evidence or intent. Families of the accused are forced into hiding, perpetuating a cycle of poverty and fear.

He further emphasized Pakistan’s failure to amend these laws despite their rampant misuse against minorities, severely impacting freedom of religious expression and stifling dissent. 

Of significant concern is the involvement of extremist religio-political groups like Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) in inciting Muslims to falsely implicate minorities in blasphemy charges for political gain. Recent incidents, such as the mob attack in Jaranwala on August 16, 2023, underscore the urgent need for action. Mr. Jansen called on Pakistani authorities to fulfill their obligations, urging them to prohibit any advocacy of hatred inciting discrimination, hostility, or violence.

He urged for the amendment of blasphemy laws to introduce robust safeguards, ensuring a fair, impartial, and transparent investigation and trial in all blasphemy cases. 

Ann Buwalda, the dedicated Executive Director of Jubilee Campaign USA, extended her support for the cause, emphasizing the stark violations of human rights resulting from arbitrary detention for religious reasons in Pakistan. She urged countries to stand against these practices on the international stage, advocating for legal aid programs, immediate legal representation, and fair trials for detainees. Ms. Buwalda also recommended establishing mechanisms to monitor and report on cases of religious detention.

Ms. Buwalda highlighted specific and alarming cases of individuals imprisoned due to anti-blasphemy or apostasy laws in Pakistan, underscoring the urgency to address these injustices. She referred to the joint statement in March 2021, signed by over fifty nations, urging states with the death penalty for blasphemy and apostasy to abolish this severe punishment. Pakistan’s maintenance of the death penalty for these offenses represents a clear violation of human rights and principles of a fair and just society.

One distressing case that demands immediate attention is that of Anwar Kenneth, who has been imprisoned for over 20 years in Pakistan on blasphemy charges, illustrating the gravity of these injustices.

Arbitrary detention for religious reasons constitutes a gross violation of human rights that necessitates collective action and unwavering commitment.

Addressing detention for religious reasons is a complex and long-term endeavor, requiring concerted efforts at local, national, and international levels to uphold the fundamental human right to religious freedom.

Kashif Nawab

Kashif Nawab is a Director with Social Action Transformation of Humanity (SATH) in Pakistan.

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