Brussels [Belgium], July 30 (ANI): Pakistan's blasphemy laws are used and abused by extremist Islamic groups to persecute members of non-Muslim minorities and whoever tries to combat this religiously motivated instrumentalization is at risk of losing their lives, experts from a non-governmental organization with participatory status to the United Nations Economic and Social Council ( ECOSOC ) has said.
The experts were participating in a zoom conference organized by AIDLR (Alliance Internationale pour la Defense de la Liberte Religieuse) at the Press Club in Brussels on 27 July.
The panel was unanimous that it was time for the European Union (EU) to question the GSP status granted to Pakistan.
In 2014, Pakistan entered the Generalised Scheme of Preferences Plus (GSP) granting a number of commercial privileges, such as access to the EU market without import duties if human rights are respected.
Willy Fautre, Director of Human Rights Without Frontiers (HRWF) said that the blasphemy laws in Pakistan are used and abused by terrorist Islamic groups to persecute members of non-Muslim minorities and whoever tries to combat this religiously motivated instrumentalization is at risk of losing his life.
"The blasphemy laws of Pakistan, while purporting to protect Islam and the religious sensitivities of the Muslim majority, are vaguely formulated and arbitrarily enforced by the police and the judiciary; as such they permit abuse, harassment and persecution of minorities in Pakistan," declared AIDLR's representative and organizer Andy Vermaut in his introduction.
"Muslim human rights activists, lawyers and judges in Pakistan have also been killed by the hand of Islamic extremists," he added.
Moreover, AIDLR said that EU member states failed to provide a safe haven to a Christian couple arrested in 2013, sentenced to death in 2014 and acquitted for lack of evidence in June 2021, reported HRWF.
Fautre said that in the HRWF database of FORB prisoners, they have "documented 47 cases of believers of all faiths in Pakistan who are in jail on the basis of the blasphemy laws." These include 26 Christians, 15 Sunni Muslims, 5 Ahmadis and 1 Shia Muslim. Fautre added: "There are certainly more."Some 16 have been sentenced to death, 16 have been sentenced to life imprisonment, 10 have been in prison for years and are still waiting for trial and in four cases the status of the prisoner is unknown, reported HRWF.
The case of Asia Bibi who was sentenced to death by hanging in 2010 and was finally acquitted for lack of evidence by the Supreme Court of Pakistan after spending many years on death row is well known. When she was released, she went into hiding to avoid being killed by terrorist groups.
Up to now, Pakistan has ignored the repeated appeals of the UN, the EU institutions, the USA, the UK and other countries to ensure the necessary safeguards are in place to prevent the abuse of the blasphemy laws, said Fautre.
Despite continuing violations of human rights, including religious freedom, the European Commission certifies that Pakistan remains eligible for the GSP scheme, reported HRWF.
Concretely, it means that the suspension of the GSP is not on the agenda of the European Commission although numerous reports prove that the implementation of human rights in Pakistan has not made any substantial progress and has even regressed on a number of issues, said Fautre.
However, it would be an unfortunate missed opportunity for the EU to fail to show its teeth and to be at the spearhead of a robust initiative right now.
On December 2, 2020, the State Department re-designated Pakistan as a CPC (Country of Particular Concern) under IRFA (International Religious Freedom Act), but again issued a waiver on any related sanctions, "as required, in the 'important national interest of the United States," reported HRWF.
"Pakistan can sleep on both ears if the EU fails to put its words and values into action. Business first should be replaced on its agenda by Values first and Business second," advised Fautre. (ANI)