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Govt slammed for ‘failure’ to protect religious minorities
By Afnan Khan
LAHORE: Noted human rights activists and members of persecuted communities in Pakistan censured the government for its rights record and failure to stop violence against minorities.
They said government’s failure to amend the blasphemy law exposed the fact that extremists were still very strong in the country and that the government was failing to protect the persecuted communities. Political parties only used the issue to take political mileage, they complained.
A senior official of the Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) Baseer Naweed told Daily Times that the commission has expressed deep concerns over the state of human rights in Pakistan in its annual report for 2010.
He said the report observed that the condition of human rights in Pakistan in 2010 remained grave. The AHRC has encountered cases and situations which indicated continued systematic abuse of human rights as well as areas critically affected by conflict and the absence of the rule of law, he added.
State actors, including police and judiciary, commonly perpetrate, permit and fail to punish egregious violations of human rights, especially against women and religious minorities. These violations include forced disappearances, torture, extra-judicial killings, disfiguring attacks on women, forced marriage and religious conversion, rape, domestic abuse, and other crimes.
However, the commission appreciated the government’s steps towards ending executions as not a single person was executed since November 2008 out of the approximately 7,500 prisoners on death row.
Minorities remain insecure and unprotected because of the misuse of blasphemy law and ineptness of the government and its authorities with regard to the actions of extremist groups. These groups enjoy impunity because of the government’s interest in political expediency and having supporters in powerful institutions like army and intelligence agencies, the report says.
It urged the government to withdraw all the reservations on the ICCPR and CAT and ratify it in its true spirit so that the law enforcement agencies are made accountable before the law. It also urged the government to stop the menace of torture in custody by any authority, whether it be police or army, and make torture a crime by law.
There is an urgent need of stopping the corruption at all levels while all forms of violence against women should carry proper punishments. It also demanded that journalists must be provided protection and those who attack, torture and kill them must be prosecuted.
Meanwhile, Jamaat Ahmadiyya spokesperson Saleemud Din told Daily Times that Ahmedi citizens were becoming worst victims of blasphemy law, and more than 3,500 criminal cases have been registered against Ahmedis throughout the country under various laws.
He said last year, 74 Ahmedis faced fresh charges while those who were charged under section 295-A have also been prosecuted in anti-terrorism courts. A total 98 Ahmedis were killed this year, while the number of total killings was 110 till 2009.
He said it was an alarming situation as a hate campaign against the community was in full swing right under the nose of government across the country while the extremists were building up their pressure and activities in Chenab Nagar and it could prove to be disastrous if no step was taken.
One of the victims of Gojra riots, Samson Suhail, and a rights activist, Nadeem Anthony, told Daily Times that minorities were feeling very disappointed as the government had failed to amend blasphemy law.
They said they were still determined to continue the struggle for their rights, as it was a matter of their survival. Grant of bail to those five people who were arrested after being shown in footage torching innocent Christians in Gojra has also discouraged the victims a lot, yet they were still determined to fight the case against extremists.
At least seven people, including women and children, were burnt alive by the extremist mobs in Gojra over the claims that some Christians in a nearby town of Korian had desecrated the holy Quran.
They said Almas Masih, who had lost his wife, brother and children, had to flee the country due to continuous death threats by the extremists for pursuing the case against them.
However, Pakistan People’s Party Minority Wing President Napoleon Qayoom told Daily Times that the government was keen to protect the rights of minorities.
He said President Asif Zardari himself ordered him to ensure justice to a Christian nurse who was allegedly raped by a doctor. The president also asked him to monitor distribution of relief goods among minorities after receiving news of discrimination by some local officials in Sukkur and nearby areas.
Napoleon admitted that government’s failure to amend the blasphemy law was a discouraging factor for minorities, yet he appreciated the fact that things were allowed to be openly discussed under the umbrella of the PPP government.
He said President Asif Zardari won the hearts of the people by his recent statement in which he called on the influential people to stand up for the rights of women and minorities. He said that PPP leadership was aware of the fact that the miscreants misused blasphemy law to settle scores with their rivals and a great struggle was required to end these laws.