The Overseas Pakistani Christian Alliance (OPCA) and Global Human Rights Defence (GHRD) organized a major demonstration in the Netherlands’ The Hague to voice their concerns over the recent attack on churches and Christian settlements in Pakistan.
According to the press release from Global Human Rights Defence (GHRD), the event culminated in a gathering in front of the Pakistani Embassy at Amaliastraat and a total of 162 people from the Netherlands, France and Belgium took part in the protest on Wednesday.
The protesters expressed grave concerns over the religious freedom violations and stifling state of freedom of expression in Pakistan and called upon the European Union to assess Pakistan’s compliance with its human rights obligations before extending its Generalized System of Preferences (GSP) Plus status for another four years.
The demonstration slogan emphasized that it is the prime responsibility of the EU to assess Pakistan’s progress in implementing 27 international treaties under the GSP+ mechanism, a trade concession Pakistan has been enjoying since 2014, according to the press release.
The protesters demand that the extension of GSP Plus status must not be granted unconditionally, instead, it should be contingent upon Pakistan’s genuine efforts to improve the state of freedom of expression and religion he called on both the Pakistani government and the European Union to engage in constructive dialogue to ensure that the extension of GSP Plus status is tied to tangible steps and verifiable progress in upholding religious freedom and fulfilling its human rights obligations.
The release added that over 90 persons have been extra-judicially killed and minorities have been attacked multiple times on the pretext of blasphemy accusation. It recognised that Pakistan must consider amending all blasphemy laws to introduce impregnable and effective safeguards, remove restrictions on religious freedom, and ensure that the accused of blasphemy are not tried under the anti-terrorism act, and receive a fair trial.
Taking on the situation of minorities in Pakistan, one of the protesters Gil Watson said, “Every person should have the right to religious freedom without fear of persecution, and nobody should be persecuted for living out their faith. The repressive blasphemy laws create a climate of hostility against religious minorities, and fertile ground for radicals to wreak havoc against those whom they perceive as blasphemers.”
He added, “Pakistan must take measures to detect and counter acts of incitement to hatred, discrimination, and violence against individuals and groups.”
Another protester who was present at the demonstration site, Perviaz Bhatti said that religion should never be invoked as a justification for targeting persons belonging to minorities.
He said, “The correlation between blasphemy laws and mob violence plague and threaten the lives of religious minorities. The scale and severity of the attacks against minorities in Pakistan is unconscionable. Pakistani authorities must take sincere actions to protect Christians at risk, quell the violence, and bring the perpetrators of acts of religious persecution to justice.”
Chaudhary Khalid said that the United Nations Human Rights Committee has called upon all states to repeal blasphemy laws or amend them in compliance with the strict requirements of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (CCPR). Moreover, the European parliament in 2021 passed a resolution calling on Pakistan to repeal sections 295-B and 295-C of the PPC to respect and uphold the freedom of religion and expression and amend the Anti-Terrorism Act 1997 to avoid trial of blasphemy cases in anti-terrorism courts. However, Pakistan did not introduce any measure to amend or repeal blasphemy laws despite they are incompatible with the Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (CCPR). Instead, Pakistan introduced some regressive developments to make the blasphemy laws stricter.
Apart from this, the member of the alliance, Latif Bhatti noted that religion is misinterpreted and blasphemy laws are misused for political motives by certain elements that resort to violence to influence policymaking, however, the state remains insensitive and society largely is unaware of the cost of such a skewed polity.
He lamented that the parliament passed an amendment act to increase punishment for the accused under section 298-A, which will surely open avenues for its further abuse, allowing complainants to make fabricated blasphemy accusations against individuals they had grudge against.
He added, “Existing blasphemy laws serve as a firewood plank for some religio-political groups to facilitate and perpetrate acts of violence against the accused on the mere accusation of blasphemy.”
He expressed concerns over the including the charge under section 7 of the Anti-Terrorism Act against blasphemy accused in addition to Section 295-C of the Pakistan Penal Code under the influence of religio-political party is a dangerous practice, and it will make the blasphemy accused more vulnerable, and fuel mob justice.
The release informed that the United Nations Human Rights Committee’s call to repeal or amend blasphemy laws in compliance with international standards and the European Parliament’s resolution on the matter are highlighted as crucial steps that Pakistan has yet to undertake.
Instead, regressive developments have been observed, making blasphemy laws even stricter. The protesters urge Pakistan to reconsider its stance and take measures to protect religious minorities.
The event seeks to raise awareness about the dangerous consequences of misinterpreted religion and the misuse of blasphemy laws for political motives. The protesters warn that such actions breed violence and harm religious minorities, demanding that the international community take a stand against these injustices.
The demonstration was marked by speeches, placards, and chants demanding justice for victims of the Jaranwala attack on Christians, and calling for reforms in the Pakistani legal system to address the growing concerns over the targeting of religious minorities and dissenting voices.