Blasphemy Laws in Pakistan

Question

The Commission’s recent working document on Pakistan’s GSP+ assessment makes reference to that country’s blasphemy laws. The document states that Pakistan has been requested to ‘follow up on the recommendation to repeal all blasphemy laws or to amend them in compliance with the strict requirements of the Covenant’ (i.e. the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR)).

Pakistan’s blasphemy laws are disproportionately applied to Christians and human rights activists. In 2010, the Christian woman Asia Bibi was handed down a death sentence for blasphemy and the Christian government minister Shahbaz Bhatti was assassinated for advocating on her behalf. This case has since been emphasised by Jan Figel, the EU Special Envoy for the promotion of freedom of religion or belief outside the EU.

Considering that these blasphemy laws are a violation of Article 19 of the ICCPR, one of the 27 core conventions adherence to which is obligatory under the GSP+ programme:

  1. How does the Commission intend to ensure that Pakistan complies with the request to repeal its blasphemy laws?
  2. What concrete steps are being taken that show that the Government of Pakistan is committed to repealing the blasphemy laws?
  3. What will the EU and its Member States do to ensure Asia Bibi’s immediate and unconditional release and to guarantee her safety and that of her family?

Answer

Following the submission of the Generalised System of Preferences Plus (GSP+) biennial report in January 2018[1], the GSP+ monitoring process continued with transmitting to beneficiary countries a detailed list of issues where progress is expected. Blasphemy laws are prominent elements in the EU’s feedback to Pakistan, to be also addressed during the next GSP+ monitoring mission to Pakistan in autumn 2018. The EU-Pakistan Joint Commission, also in autumn 2018, will be another occasion to reiterate the EU’s concerns in this regard. The recent visits of Ján Figeľ, EU Special Envoy for Freedom of Religion or Belief outside the EU, aimed at contributing to proactive confidence-building and genuine discussions on this sensitive topic.

The EU closely monitors developments related to blasphemy laws, affecting not only religious minorities, but anyone allegedly speaking out against these laws. A debate has started on how to prevent false allegations of blasphemy. The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan proposes to criminalise incitement to violence on the basis of religion. The Senate Functional Committee on Human Rights has started addressing the misuse of blasphemy laws, supported by the Ministry of Religious Affairs, and political parties. In Sindh province, the government proposed a plan to bring hundreds of places of worship of non-Muslims under video surveillance for their security. Four religious minorities, Christians, Hindus, Parsis and Sikhs, have been selected for the project.

The EU and its Member States strongly advocate for the release of Asia Bibi through all available channels. The decision of the Supreme Court of Pakistan is being awaited in the case.


[1] Commission and European External Action Service Joint Staff Working Document SWD(2018) 29 final.

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