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Pakistan blasphemy laws used to justify 'murder': EU parliament

20 May 2010, 18:14 CET
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(STRASBOURG) - The EU parliament on Thursday called on Pakistan to guarantee minority rights, claiming that its blasphemy laws could be used to murder members of political, racial and religious minorities.

In a resolution adopted in Strasbourg, the assembled Euro MPs expressed "deep concern" at the Pakistani blasphemy laws, calling for a "thoroughgoing review" of the legislation which is "open to misuse."

The laws can carry the death sentence and are "often used to justify censorship, criminalisation, persecution and, in certain cases, the murder of members of political, racial and religious minorities," the parliament said in a strongly-worded statement.

The texts in question "are misused by extremist groups and those wishing to settle personal scores," the EU deputies said.

They had also "led to an increase of violence against members of religious minorities, particularly Ahmadis, but also Christians, Hindus, Sikhs, Shiites, Buddhists, Parsis, Bahais and critical citizens who dare to raise their voice against injustice," they added.

The parliament did recognise recent "measures taken in the interest of religious minorities," by the Pakistan government, such as establishing a quota of five per cent for minorities in the federal jobs sector, recognising non-Muslim public holidays and declaring a National Minorities Day.

The chamber also welcomed the commitment made by Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani to grant property rights to minority slum dwellers in Islamabad and the government's undertaking to provide minority seats in the Senate.

However such initiatives cannot mask the reports and surveys by independent agencies which "reveal that minorities in Pakistan are deprived of basic civil liberties and equal opportunities in jobs, education and political representation," the parliament underlined.

The resolution also criticised the practice of including religious details on citizens' passports, a practice which the MEPs argued could lead to "discriminatory practices..

Present in Strasbourg was Pakistan's minorities minister Shahbaz Bhatti.

He told AFP that his country was "trying to improve the situation and many steps have been taken."

He said the Pakistani authorities had made a "commitment to amend these laws."

"These laws will be changed in such a way which could not be harmful. I'm working on that, this will be done by the end of this year," he said.

Pakistan, founded in 1947 as a Muslim homeland during the bloody partition of British India, is overwhelmingly Muslim. Religious minorities however form some five percent of the population, according to government figures.

In June last year, blasphemy allegations led to mob violence against Christians in Punjab that caused hundreds to flee, according to the US State Department's annual report on religious freedom around the world.

The report said there was particular discrimination against the Ahmadiya community, which Pakistan considers non-Muslim as adherents do not believe Mohammed was the last prophet.

Pakistan on Thursday condemned caricatures of the Prophet Mohammed that appeared on Facebook, blocking the social networking site and YouTube in a growing backlash over Internet "sacrilege."

Islam strictly prohibits the depiction of any prophet as blasphemous and Muslims across the globe staged angry protests over the publication of satirical cartoons of Mohammed in European newspapers four years ago.

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