Christians and other minorities are often accused of blasphemy in Pakistan. (Photo supplied)
The United Nations human rights office has urged Pakistan to take immediate and concrete steps to curb the use of blasphemy laws and ensure the protection of journalists and human rights defenders who have been subjected to threats.
“We have followed with increasing concern numerous instances of incitement to violence — online and offline — against journalists and human rights defenders in Pakistan, in particular against women and minorities. Especially worrying are accusations of blasphemy, which can put accused individuals at imminent risk of violence,” Rupert Colville, a spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, said on Sept. 8.
His statement came on the same day that a Pakistani court sentenced a Christian man to death for blasphemy, a charge he denied.
Asif Pervaiz, 37, a father of four, was accused of sending derogatory messages about Prophet Muhammad, Islam and the Quran to his Muslim employer in Lahore.
Pervaiz’s counsel Saif-ul-Malook told UCA News that there was no evidence against his client and that he would challenge the verdict in a high court.
“We call on the leadership to unequivocally condemn incitement to violence against religious minorities and what appears to be an increase in the use of blasphemy laws for personal or political score settling. We call on them to encourage respect for diversity of opinion,” Colville said.
The UN rights body noted that female Pakistani journalists last month publicly warned of what they described as a "coordinated campaign" of social media attacks against those who have been critical of government policies.
In one such case, journalist and human rights defender Marvi Sirmed has received numerous messages on social media containing highly derogatory and violent language, including gender-based slurs and death threats. Accusations of blasphemy on social media were followed by actual police complaints filed against Sirmed, whose personal details were also revealed on Twitter.
At least four Pakistani journalists and bloggers were killed last year in connection with their reporting.
Among them was Arooj Iqbal, a woman who was shot dead in Lahore as she sought to launch her own local newspaper.
On Sept. 5, journalist Shaheena Shaheen was shot dead by unidentified men in Balochistan's Kech district.
In the vast majority of such cases, those responsible have not been investigated, prosecuted and held to account.
“We also stress the need for prompt, effective, thorough and impartial investigations with a view to ensuring accountability in cases of violence and killings,” Colville said.
“Victims and their families have the right to justice, truth and reparations. We welcome that in the case of Shaheen a number of high-level government officials have condemned the murder and pledged to bring to justice the perpetrators.”