Nawaz Sharif Needs to Break His Silent on Blasphemy Law

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Pakistani Government needs to conduct a swift and unbiased investigation into the May 7, 2014 assassination of lawyer and human rights activists, Rashid Rehman, Human Rights Watch said today. Those criminals should be fully and promptly prosecuted.

Government needs to end silence on Blasphemy law and bring justice to those allegedly accused of Blasphemy, Human rights watch said
Government needs to end silence on Blasphemy law and bring justice to those allegedly accused of Blasphemy, Human rights watch said

Human Rights activists watch said that Rehman’s murder, an apparent payback for his willingness to help Blasphemy accused people, emphasizes the serious need for the government to repeal the Law.

The murder incident happened when two unknown gunmen shot down Rehman in his office in Multan, Punjab province. Who had been threatened  with “terrible consequences” for advocating blasphemy accused Junaid Hafeez, a lecturer at Bahauddin Zakariya University. Hafeez was blamed for allegedly spreading blasphemous phrases via his Facebook account, however, it is not known what he said.

Brad Adam said, Asia director at Human Rights Watch, “Pakistan’s vaguely worded blasphemy law has led to discrimination, persecution, and murder since its imposition almost three decades ago. It should be reformed or repealed immediately and it is appalling that lawyers who defend the rights of people charged with blasphemy should themselves become the targets of deadly violence”

Rehman’s murder follows a series of recent incidents and persecution under blasphemy law. On april 15, Lahore court rejected Asif Pervaiz appeal for bail who was accused of allegedly making blasphemous statements via text message.

On April 4, a court in Gojra in Punjab province sentenced death penalty to a Christian couple, Shafkat Emmanuel and Shagufta Kausar, for allegedly texting blasphemous text messages  to local Muslim citizens. The trial judge  apparently specified that he levied the penalty under “great pressure” in the absence of practical proofs against the two.

On March 27 a Lahore court levied the death sentence on blasphemy accused Sawan Masih for allegedly making “derogatory remarks against the Prophet Mohammed” during a quarrel. On March 9, 2013, police stood by while a thousand-strong crowd furious by the blasphemy claims against Masih attacked  his residential community of Joseph’s Colony in Lahore. The crowd plundered and then burned down more than 150 houses as the police stood by without intervening. The Punjab provincial government has failed to protect and bring justice to those people.

Section 295-C leads to the death penalty effectively compulsory for blasphemy. Thousands have been accused of hurting religious emotions and feelings since its imposition, including several dozen in 2013 alone. In Pakistan, at least 18 people are presently on death row for blasphemy while another 20 are serving life sentences. Similarly, Asia Bibi, a Christian from Punjab province who was the first woman in the Pakistan’s history to be sentenced to death for blasphemy in 2010, continues to suffer in prison.

Adam Said, “Rashid Rehman’s killing underscores that the blasphemy law creates dangers for both defendants and their lawyers and Killers remain free while those engaged in peaceful expression are targeted by the state and extremists.”

In the recent years a series of assassination threats and intimidations by extremists has made it difficult to reform blasphemy law, Human Rights Watch said.  In 2010, Punjab Governor Salmaan Taseer and Pakistan’s Minorities Minister Shahbaz Bhatti were killed for supporting repeal of the law. Pakistan’s previous ambassador to the United States, Sherry Rehman, was charged under the blasphemy law for presenting a reform bill in parliament the same year.

The blasphemy law is mainly used against minorities, while the government seldom brings charges against those accountable for attacks on people accused of blasphemy. The law is also frequently manipulated to settle personal disagreements.

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has not commented against the blasphemy law and the danger it poses to minorities.

“As things stand, even an accusation of blasphemy can mean prison, death, or exile,” Adams said. “Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif needs to end his silence on the blasphemy law and act to ensure all Pakistanis can live free from fear and discrimination.”