Pakistan's blasphemy laws violate human rights

Washington, USA - The US Commission on International Religious Freedom has criticised the blasphemy laws in Pakistan, saying they violate the universally guaranteed right to the freedom of thought, conscience, and religion or belief.

'Pakistan's blasphemy laws are inherently arbitrary, and they de facto restrict freedom of speech and other freedoms guaranteed by international human rights norms,' said Felice D Gaer, head of the commission.

'These laws lend themselves to misuse and abuse, resulting frequently in severe violations of freedom of religion or belief in Pakistan,' he added.

The commission noted that the laws have been applied recently against Younis Masih, a Christian, whom a court in Lahore recently sentenced to death.

The sentence against Masih was followed quickly by another blasphemy allegation against a group of Christian nurses in a hospital in Islamabad. Even before charges were filed in that case, the women were threatened with violence.

Adding to concerns about the blasphemy laws is a draft bill currently before a standing committee of the National Assembly that would impose the death penalty for apostasy, or converting from Islam to any other religion.

The death sentence would be imposed on Muslim men, while women would receive a life sentence. The Muttahida Majlis-i-Amal tabled the bill, which provides that testimony by two or more adults would be sufficient grounds for conviction.

'This proposed bill would violate human rights standards because it would criminalise an internationally protected right,' Gaer said.

'Every effort should be made by the Pakistan Government to ensure that such repressive legislation is not passed,' the Daily Times quoted him as saying.

'In Pakistan, blasphemy allegations, which commonly are false, result in the lengthy detention and sometimes violence against Ahmadis, Christians, Hindus, and members of other religious minorities as well as Muslims on account of their religious beliefs, ' the commission said.

'The blasphemy laws require no evidence to be presented after allegations are made and contain no penalty for levelling false allegations. So, they are often used to carry out a vendetta or gain an advantage over another,' the commission added.