Blasphemy Law, Attack on Minorities Violate Rights in Pak: Report
The report welcomed the enactment of new laws to protect women but decried an uptick in religious vigilantism.
An independent watchdog on Wednesday offered a mixed report card in its annual look at the state of human rights in Pakistan, welcoming the enactment of new laws to protect women but decrying an uptick in religiously motivated vigilantism.
The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan said the country was among the world's most prolific enforcers of the death penalty, having executed 87 prisoners in 2016. Another 426 were sentenced to death last year. Four prisoners convicted of terrorism charges in military courts were hanged early Wednesday, the army said.
Pakistan has executed 432 prisoners since 2014, when it lifted a ban on executions following a Taliban attack on a school that killed some 150 people, mostly schoolchildren.
But most of those executed were convicted criminals and not militants. Forty were convicted by military courts, which have been criticised by rights groups concerned about due process.
The report said fewer people died in terror attacks last year, but that Pakistan's judges and lawyers were under increasing threat from targeted killings. It said minorities continued to suffer discrimination and attacks from religious extremists, with little state protection. It noted that Pakistan has one of the world's lowest literacy rates.
The report also criticised the use of a controversial blasphemy law by military and civilian authorities to intimidate critics.
Blasphemy carries the death penalty for anyone convicted of insulting Islam. Earlier this year, a student in Pakistan’s conservative northwest was attacked and killed by a stick-wielding mob who accused him of blasphemy. There was no evidence of blasphemy, and his death generated widespread protests.
People have been given impunity if they kill in the name of religion, if they cheat in the name of religion, if they lie in the name of religion... the state has to end this. It is doing no service to our religion.Asma Jahangir, the commission’s chairman
Pakistan last year arrested 15 people, 10 Muslims and five non-Muslims, on blasphemy charges, according to the report. Pakistan has never executed anyone convicted of blasphemy, but the mere accusation is enough to ignite mob violence and lynchings in the deeply conservative country.
Freedom of speech also took a hit last year with threats of blasphemy charges levelled against those who challenged state authority, said the report. Six journalists and a blogger were killed last year. There has been a spike in the level of "intimidation of the media and increased levels of self-censorship by the media," it said.
The year 2016 saw a disturbing rise in assaults on media houses, TV channel and newspaper offices as well as press clubs by militant, religious and political groups.the report said
Jahangir assailed Pakistan's powerful intelligence and security agencies for unlawfully detaining people, including five bloggers who were held for several weeks before being freed earlier this year.
The report also criticized a new cyber law that allows the authorities to access a person's online accounts without a warrant.
It also said attacks against minorities have taken aim at professionals, particularly those belonging to the Ahmadi sect, a messianic faith which is reviled by mainstream Muslims, who believe there is no other prophet than Muhammad.
Ahmadis have been fiercely persecuted in Pakistan by hard-line groups, and in the early 1970s Pakistan changed its constitution to declare them non-Muslims.
The country saw several incidents of violence against Christians. The Hindu community complained of land grabbing, attacks, kidnapping, forced conversions, temple desecrations, rape, and murder.
Islamic militants also attacked Muslim shrines and mosques.
In more than 30 attacks during the year, militants targeted different Muslim sects — mainly Sunni, Shiite, including Hazaras, and Bohra — and worship places and shrines, killing about 110 people and injuring 162 others.
But Jahangir also noted progress in Pakistan, saying that same lawmakers who once said killing a woman in the name of honor was "social tradition," enacted a law to try to end it. Women are present in all walks of life in Pakistan, she said.
"When I first began there were very few women lawyers but now there are so many bright young women out there, performing better than anyone," Jahangir said.
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