CSOs Demand Commission of Inquiry on Blasphemy Laws

Lahore, June 27, 2024 - Participants at a conference themed "Addressing Religiously Motivated Violence" have called on the government to immediately establish a Commission of Inquiry. This commission is to probe the escalating violence linked to the misuse of Sections 295-A, B, C, and 298-A, B, C of the Penal Code, identify contributing factors, and propose effective remedies.

The speakers highlighted the intrinsic connection between widespread religious intolerance and policies such as the blasphemy laws. The Centre for Social Justice (CSJ), which has been collecting data for several years, presented an assessment of crimes against religious minorities and recent developments, including a factsheet on the abuse of blasphemy laws.

The conference welcomed the resolutions passed by the National Assembly, Senate, and Punjab Assembly condemning violence in the name of religion and supporting the right to life, following incidents of mob violence in Sargodha and Swat.

Key speakers included Peter Jacob, Nadeem Ashraf, Ijaz Alam Augustine, Arafat Mazhar, Asad Jamal Advocate, Moulana Mehmood Ghaznavi, Samson Salamat, Bishop Abraham Daniel, Maheen Paracha, Salman Farooq, Michelle Chaudhry, Suneel Malik, Kashif Aslam, Tayyaba Rafiq, and Yasar Talib. They demanded the government introduce safeguards against the abuse of blasphemy laws and prosecute those who use blasphemy allegations to incite violence.

Key Highlights and Statements:

Peter Jacob, Executive Director of CSJ, stated that Pakistan's blasphemy laws are often misused for personal vendettas, fostering a climate of religiously motivated violence and persecution.

Ijaz Alam Augustine, Former Minister for Human Rights, called for a dialogue involving all stakeholders to address violence in the name of religion and ensure false accusations of blasphemy are punished.

Asad Jamal noted that the misuse of blasphemy laws instils fear among vulnerable groups and stresses the need to dismantle the infrastructure of violence at the community level.

Arafat Mazhar emphasized considering the intent of the accused during investigations and trials to prevent the wrongful imprisonment of innocent individuals.

Moulana Mehmood Ghaznavi highlighted that groups inciting violence in the name of religion often manipulate emotions for personal gain, and taking the law into their own hands does not guarantee paradise.

Nadeem Ashraf, the Punjab member of the National Commission for Human Rights, reaffirmed that every individual is entitled to the right to life, liberty, and security, as guaranteed by the Constitution and international human rights instruments.

Maheen Paracha stressed the importance of prompt police action and evidence preservation in delivering justice and ensuring community safety.

Michelle Chaudhry called for collective responsibility in supporting and providing justice to victims of blasphemy allegations.

Specific Recommendations for the Commission of Inquiry:

Consider judgments by Higher and Superior Courts and recommendations from past Judicial Inquiries into incidents like Shanti Nagar-Khanewal (1997) and Gojra-Toba Tek Singh (2009).

Present a report to the parliament and public within six months, with recommendations for legal, administrative, and educational safeguards against the misuse of blasphemy laws.

Provide reparations to victims wrongly accused of blasphemy and prosecute those who incite violence through false accusations.

Ensure adequate protection for the accused, as well as judges, prosecutors, lawyers, and witnesses in blasphemy cases.
Investigate the role of the FIA in registering false complaints and reconsider the role of Anti-Terrorism Courts in blasphemy and mob violence cases. CSJ recommends these cases be tried in normal courts with fair trial guarantees.

Prioritize eliminating religious discrimination in the education system under the initiative of an Education Emergency.

The call for a Commission of Inquiry underscores the urgent need for systemic changes to protect religious minorities and uphold justice in Pakistan.