Posts Tagged ‘blasphemy laws’

Pakistan: a bad country for religious tolerance

March 17, 2019

Nothing new but it being a Sunday here in Crete, where lots of people go to church, one is struck by the continuing religious intolerance in certain parts of the world. Here two short items  relating to Pakistan, both from March 2019:
reports that on 6 March 2019 human rights defender Afzal Kohistani was shot dead by unidentified gunmen in Gami Ada, in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province. Afzal Kohistani was a human rights defender who had been campaigning against “honour killings”, or choar, in the Kohistan region of Pakistan. He had been the central figure seeking justice for the killing of five young women and three young men in 2012 and 2013.

The 2012 and 2013 “honour killings” were linked to a video, which went viral after it appeared online in 2012. It showed five young women singing and clapping, while two young men performed a traditional dance during a local wedding in Palas, a remote area in Kohistan. The mixing of genders is considered a serious violation of tribal norms in Kohistan and the young people were killed as a result of the “dishonour” they had brought on their families and community…..Prior to his death, Afzal Kohistani had received numerous death threats for seeking to bring the perpetrators of the Kohistan killings to justice. The human rights defender and his family were forced to leave their home in 2012 and had been in hiding for the past seven years. A few days prior to being killed, the human rights defender had written to the Deputy Inspector General of Police (DIG) in Hazara seeking police protection but his request never received a response. The Supreme Court’s orders for the provincial government to provide the human rights defender with protection were also not heeded. (for more detail see the link below).[ One of my first posts in 2013 concerned https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2013/09/28/pakistan-and-rights-of-women-unbearable/]

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A story in the Business Standard of 17 March refers to the a protest rally in Geneva by living in parts of Europe  objecting to “Islamists misusing blasphemy law to harass Christians in Pakistan”. The protesters walked from Palais Wilson, to ‘Broken Chair’ in front of the UN, during the 40th session of the

They demanded that the government must abolish the ‘dangerous’ law misused by the state and non-state actors to target the minorities. Frank John, of Drumchapel Asian Forum in Glasgow, said: “We are unhappy with the functioning of the government in because the mindset of ‘maulvis’ (Islamic hardliners) towards Christians is immoral. Every day, atrocities are being committed against our children, especially girls, which is not acceptable. Our girls are being kidnapped by misusing PPC 295C and they are converted into ” He added: “.. If we have an altercation with any person, they put us under PPC 295C. This is a and needs to be abolished.”

Dr Mario Silva, Executive of for Rights and Security said: “Pakistan systematically discriminates against minorities. Christians are particularly targetted by the law. Christian persecution is a real threat to democracy and it’s a real threat to human rights. It’s something the community needs to take a look at. He added, “The state has a responsibility to protect its minorities rather destroying them. They have to go against the perpetrators of crimes against Christians. There are attacks on Christians, suicide bombings are taking place and the government is doing nothing to investigate the persecution of Christians in the country.” Criticising the law, he said: “Blasphemy law should in fact never be a part of any democratic system of government because blasphemy law is meant to target minorities…..” [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2013/12/24/pussy-riot-freed-in-russia-but-the-bigger-issue-is-blasphemy-laws-everywhere/]

Christians make up less than two per cent of the population in Pakistan. Their numbers are decreasing as many of them are migrating to other countries for their safety.

https://www.frontlinedefenders.org/en/case/human-rights-defender-afzal-kohistani-shot-dead-seeking-justice-“honour-killings”
https://www.business-standard.com/article/news-ani/islamists-misusing-blasphemy-law-to-harass-christians-in-pakistan-activists-119031700034_1.html

Interview with Hina Jilani, first UN Special Representative for Human Rights Defenders

November 9, 2016

hina-jilani-biography-1_940x430The Diplomatic Courier of 9 November 2016 carries a long and serious interview with Hina Jilani, First UN Special Representative for Human Rights Defenders (2000-2008). In 2006, she was appointed to the UN International Fact-Finding Commission on Darfur, Sudan.  In 2009, she served on the United Nations Fact Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict. In 2013, she joined The Elders, a group of world leaders and human rights leaders, brought together by Nelson Mandela. A preeminent lawyer, Hina Jilani co-founded the first all women law firm in Pakistan and the National Human Rights Commission of Pakistan. Hina Jilani has been in the forefront of human rights in Pakistan beginning from Zia Ul-Haq’s dictatorship in the 1970s.

 You served as the first mandate holder of the UN Secretary General’s Special Representative for Human Rights Defenders from 2000 to 2008 and shaped that seminal mandate. Please tell us some of the key aspects of that mandate?
Photo by The Elders.

HJ: Respect for human rights necessarily includes recognition of the legitimacy of the work of defenders. As a response to the deteriorating situation of human rights defenders, the United Nations adopted the Declaration on human rights defenders in 1998. On the one hand this was recognition of the dangers that human rights defenders confront and, on the other, a step taken by the international community to create norms for the protection of human rights activity. The Declaration makes it the primary responsibility of the State not only to guarantee the safety of human rights defenders, but also to ensure that conditions exist in which they can carry out their activities.  The mandate to oversee the implementation of the Declaration was established by the UN Secretary General in 2000. The mandate required the SRSG seek, receive examine and respond to information on the situation of human rights defenders and to establish cooperation and conduct dialogue with Governments and other interested actors on the promotion and effective implementation of the Declaration as well as on improving the protection of human rights defenders.

In a world where there is rising violent extremism and heightened crackdown on human rights defenders, please share some key challengers of human rights defenders around the world?

HJ: Establishing promoting and sustaining democracy, maintaining international peace and security and providing or advancing a people oriented agenda for development cannot be accomplished without the contributions that human rights defenders make. Defenders bring to the fore information on the realities of situations to be addressed without which national and international efforts would be ineffective. They contribute to poverty alleviation, humanitarian assistance, post-conflict reconstruction, and to improving individual indicators of development such as access to health care and adult literacy, among many other activities. In situations of crises, defenders can monitor an overall situation, rapidly investigate allegations of possible violations and report their conclusions, providing a measure of accountability. They also provide the international community with some independent verification of what is actually happening within an emergency situation, informing the process of taking decisions on possible actions. This was not easily done. Human rights defenders have suffered harm and face grievous threats to their life, liberty, security, independence and credibility. State apparatus, oppressive laws and other tools of repression continue to be used against defenders in attempts to deter them from the valuable work they contribute to the promotion of human rights. Human rights defenders all over the world continue to be subjected to assassinations, disappearances, illegal arrest and detention, torture, harassment and even exile.

 

……Can you speak of Blasphemy laws that target minority Muslim populations in Pakistan?  How did you face death threats and attacks on your family because of your struggles against Blasphemy laws and other human rights atrocities in an environment of impunity?

What are called “blasphemy laws” in Pakistan are provisions introduced in the Pakistan Penal Code by Zia’s regime, ostensibly to enforce respect for Islamic personalities and the Holy Quran. In reality this was a ploy to instill fear in the population. One particular provision disregards fundamental principles of criminal justice and makes mens rea irrelevant to a finding of guilt. It also prescribes a mandatory death sentence upon conviction. The law is not only flawed in legal aspects it has been used for malicious prosecution and has targeted religious minorities – not just non-Muslims, but also different minority sects of Muslims in Pakistan. Special laws were promulgated to restrict the freedom of religion of the Ahmediya community in Pakistan, that still remains a persecuted and threatened community in Pakistan. Any one raising their voice against this law is exposed to extreme violence at the hands of organized religious terrorists, who operate with impunity in Pakistan. The State has been both unwilling and unable to perform its duty to protect in cases where people are either threatened or have actually been harmed by these groups. Lawyers defending those who are accused of blasphemy, judges who have acquitted the accused persons and public figures who have pointed out the flaws in the law or the political and malicious use of the law have been killed. There is an apparent policy of silencing criticism through fear. There are, therefore, only a few voices that continue to be raised and these are people who remain extremely vulnerable to harm.

…….What is your advice to the new Secretary General of the United Nations?

HJ: The work of the United Nations for promoting peace and improving security of people living in different parts of the world can not be completed without due attention to the respect for human rights, the UN must ensure better coordination of its political and human rights policies and strategies. I would also strongly recommend that the UN Security Council and the UN Human Rights Council seriously consider making reference to the protection of human rights defenders and to the importance and legitimacy of their work in all their resolutions relating to the maintenance of peace and security. None such resolution so far mentions this very critical aspect of the protection and promotion of human rights…

For earlier posts on Jina Jilani: https://thoolen.wordpress.com/tag/hina-jilani/

Source: Interview with Hina Jilani, First UN Special Representative for Human Rights Defenders – Diplomatic Courier

Pakistan: the recent killing of Zaki and the non-progress in the case of Perveen Rehman

May 10, 2016

Pakistan remains one to the worst places for human rights defenders as they are threatened by both religious extremists and powerful economic interests, while the State is either unwilling or too weak to stop this trend. A recent example is that of human rights defender Khurram Zaki who was killed on 7 May 2016 by four unidentified gunmen who opened fire at a restaurant in Karachi, killing him and wounding two others. That government efforts to find the killers are unlikely to yield result is shown in the follow-up in the case of human rights defender Perveen Rehman, who was killed on 13 March 2013 (see below). Read the rest of this entry »

Campaign to abolish blasphemy laws publishes interactive map

June 6, 2015

The International Humanistic and Ethical Union and the European Humanist Federation published this interactive map.

Go to the website below where you can then click a country to see a summary and then click “Read more” to see detailed information on that country’s “blasphemy” laws and accusations, and similar restrictions on free expression.

End Blasphemy Laws | The campaign to abolish all blasphemy laws, worldwide.

Pussy Riot freed in Russia but the bigger issue is blasphemy laws everywhere

December 24, 2013

Demonstrators wear "Free Pussy Riot" balaclavas as they protest at the security fence surrounding the G8 Summit at Lough Erne in Enniskillen, Northern Ireland June 17, 2013

(Pussy Riot’s members with their distinctive coloured balaclavas)

The two remaining members of Russian punk band Pussy Riot, whose incarceration sparked a global outcry, have been released under an amnesty law, but Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and Maria Alyokhina dismissed the amnesty as a publicity stunt before the Sochi Winter Olympics in February.They both promised to continue their vocal opposition to the government. The women were jailed in August 2012 after performing a protest song in Moscow’s main cathedral. Alyokhina’s first words and actions after being freed serve as a sign that this fight is likely to go on. The case divided Russia with many feeling the women were being too harshly treated and made examples of as part of attempts to clamp down on opposition to the government. But others felt their actions were a gross offence to the Orthodox faith. The act was seen as blasphemous by many others e.g. in Greece here and was condemned by several Orthodox Churches. However, their conviction for “hooliganism motivated by religious hatred” was criticised by rights groups [AI declared them prisoners of conscience], celebrities [such as Sting, the Red Hot Chilli Peppers, Madonna and Yoko Ono ], anti-Putin activists and foreign governments.

This should make us look again a the issue of blasphemy in general. The crime of criticizing a religion is not always called blasphemy; sometimes it is categorized as hate speech (even when it falls well below any sensible standard of actually inciting hatred or violence) because it supposedly insults the followers of a religion. These crimes—of expressing ‘blasphemy’ or offending religious feelings—are still a crime in 55 countries, can mean prison in 39 of those countries, and are punishable by death in six countries.

Recently, Ireland and the Netherlands started the process of removing some or part of their blasphemy laws. The arguments in these debates have universal validity.

Human Rights First and other NGOs have reported on human rights abuses caused by the use of blasphemy laws around the world.  These laws are often vague and can be subject to abuse, either by the authorities or citizens who can accuse a fellow citizen of blasphemy with a personal complaint to the prosecutor. The concept is inconsistent with universal human rights standards, which protect the rights of individuals rather than abstract ideas or religions. Those accused of blasphemy are frequently threatened or attacked even before any investigation. People take to the streets and violence stoked by religious extremists ensues. Blasphemy laws have been used to justify violence and oppression against minorities. Blasphemy laws enable governments to restrict freedom of expression, thought, and religion. Application of the laws can result in devastating consequences for religious minorities. This has been the case for Christians in Pakistan and Egypt, Ahmadi followers in Indonesia, and non-believers in Turkey and Saudi Arabia. In many instances, officials fail to condemn abuses or to hold the perpetrators of violence accountable. And the police often fail to stop violence against religious minorities or to protect those endangered on account of such laws.

In the past few years, several bodies of the United Nations have examined the relationship between freedom of expression and hate speech, especially in relation to religious issues. After extensive consultation with governments and civil society, the Rabat Plan of Action was published by the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in October 2012. This document outlines how blasphemy laws are problematic.  Since 2011, a new process dubbed the Istanbul Process was launched as a result of resolutions adopted at the Human Rights Council and the General Assembly. The idea is to combat religious intolerance without restricting freedom of speech but whether that is possible is a big question.

Lessons of the Debate Over Ireland’s Blasphemy Law | Human Rights First

http://www.humanrightsfirst.org/wp-content/uploads/Blasphemy_Cases.pdf.

http://www.secularism.org.uk/news/2013/12/netherlands-scraps-blasphemy-law–but-seeks-a-way-to-replace-it

BBC News – Pussy Riot: Russia frees jailed punk band members.