Christians hold the holy cross and placards during a protest in Karachi on Aug. 22 to condemn the attack on churches in Pakistan. More than 80 Christian homes and 19 churches were vandalized in an hours-long riot in Jaranwala in Punjab province on Aug. 16, after allegations that a Koran had been desecrated spread through the city (Photo: AFP)
A forum of leading rights organizations in Asia has urged the Pakistan government to enforce the law to address vigilante violence against religious minorities, saying the recent attack on Christians shows the ongoing misuse of the blasphemy laws in the country.
The Asian Forum for Development and Human Rights (FORUM-ASIA) and its six-member organizations made the call in an Aug. 24 statement referring to last week’s violence in Punjab province, in which more than 86 Christian homes and over 20 churches were attacked, forcing many Christian families to flee.
The attack in Jaranwala town in Punjab began on Aug. 16 after Muslims accused two Christians of committing blasphemy by allegedly desecrating the pages of the Quran.
Mobs of Muslims reacted by burning down churches, vandalizing homes, and destroying private properties.
“Such mob attacks underscore the ongoing misuse of the blasphemy laws in Pakistan, which were strengthened in the 1980s as part of a drive to Islamize the state during the military dictatorship of General Zia-ul-Haq,” the rights group said.
Since then, blasphemy laws have been used to target religious minorities in the country, such as Christians, Shias, and Ahmedis, the group said.
The Pakistani government should “effectively enforce a constitutional framework for addressing vigilante violence and combating discrimination against religious minorities,” it stated.
Given the recurring misuse of blasphemy laws, “Pakistan must comprehensively review its laws, making sure that no legislation exists to foster intolerance, trample upon fundamental freedoms, and target religious minorities,” the rights group said.
The government also in collaboration with local and international organizations should raise public awareness about the fundamental rights and liberties of minority groups, including religious and ethnic minorities.
At present, Pakistan’s blasphemy laws are characterized by their broad and vague nature. When misused, such laws could infringe upon people’s fundamental rights and freedoms, said Mary Aileen Diez-Bacalso, the executive director of FORUM-ASIA.
“We urge the government to review these laws and ensure that the rights of minority groups are upheld at all times,” she said.
The rights groups urged Pakistan authorities to prioritize “the safety and well-being of all survivors, including the provision of security for minority Christians.”
They also demanded adequate financial compensation for victims and psycho-social assistance for trauma-affected individuals.
Besides, those responsible for the violence should be made accountable through legal process, it said.