Home Latest News Lack of Prosecutions in Past Incidents Embolden Mobs in Pakistan: HRW

Lack of Prosecutions in Past Incidents Embolden Mobs in Pakistan: HRW

Rights body calls on concerned governments, intergovernmental bodies to seek reform or repeal of laws that discriminate against religious minorities

by Staff Report

Members of a violent mob vandalize a church in Jaranwala

Human Rights Watch on Tuesday stressed that a lack of prosecutions in previous incidents of mob violence in Pakistan had emboldened individuals who commit violence in the name of religion, and called on the government reform or repeal laws that discriminate against religious minorities.

In a statement issued after the Aug. 16 violence in the Jaranwala district of Faisalabad, the independent rights watchdog noted the need for authorities to take immediate action to protect religious minorities from violence and appropriately prosecute all those responsible for intimidation, threats, and violent acts against religious minorities. It recalled that several hundred people had targeted the Christian community in Jaranwala, adding the interim prime minister had vowed “stern action” against all perpetrators.

“The Faisalabad attack underscores the failings of Pakistan’s police to adequately protect religious minority communities and respond promptly to violence targeting them,” said Patricia Gossman, associate Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “The lack of prosecutions of those responsible for such crimes in the past emboldens those who commit violence in the name of religion,” she added.

The statement recalled that recent months had seen a rise in attacks targeting religious minorities and their places of worship in Pakistan. “The persecution of the Ahmadiyya community is embedded in Pakistani law and encouraged by the Pakistan government,” it said, noting a mob had vandalized an Ahmadiyya place of worship in Karachi on July 25, while a mob had attacked a factory owned by an Ahmadi man in Lahore on Aug. 18 after accusing him of blasphemy. Instead of prosecuting the attackers, the authorities charged eight members of the Ahmadi community with blasphemy, it added.

Emphasizing that mere accusations of blasphemy can place the accused at risk of physical harm in Pakistan, it said at least 65 had been killed over blasphemy allegations since 1990. It further recalled the attack on the Joseph Colony in Lahore in March 2013, as well as the assault on a Christian community in Gojra, which had killed seven people. “The Punjab provincial government has failed to bring any of the attackers to justice,” it said.

Referring to the blasphemy law, the HRW described it as effectively a mandatory death sentence, adding at least 1,472 people had been charged under it from 1987 to 2016. “Although there have been no executions, several people convicted of blasphemy are currently on death row, while many others are serving life sentences for related offenses,” it said, adding the law was largely used against members of religious minorities, while charges were rarely brought against those responsible for attacks on people accused of blasphemy. “The law is also often manipulated to settle personal disputes,” it said, noting the Supreme Court had in 2014 validated this.

Calling on concerned governments and intergovernmental bodies to press the Pakistani government to reform or repeal laws that discriminate against religious minorities, including the blasphemy law, the HRW said the legislation, as well as anti-Ahmadiyya laws, violated Pakistan’s international legal obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

“The Pakistan government’s indifference to the abuses under the blasphemy law and the violence it provokes is discriminatory and violates the rights to fundamental freedoms,” said Gossman. “The authorities’ failure to hold those responsible for violence against religious minorities to account only encourages extremists and reinforces fear and insecurity among all religious minorities,” she added.

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