The European parliament recently debated and adopted an urgent resolution on Pakistan's blasphemy laws, which I requested and led on behalf of the ALDE group.
I believe it is extremely important that we have had the opportunity to raise this critical issue again. The latest cases of mob violence and lynching against accused blasphemers and the lawyers who defend them, in addition to the recently dismissed appeal of Asia Bibi’s death sentence, tragically highlight the lack of progress. This is despite repeated calls by the European parliament to abolish the blasphemy laws.
I am, however, determined to continue pushing to repeal these controversial laws and working towards putting an end to the mob violence fostered by them. There are currently 17 people convicted of blasphemy on death row in Pakistan, with an additional 19 serving life sentences.
I am calling on the authorities to show compassion and amnesty to those standing trial and serving their sentences, so that they may go free. I also hope that after this decisive vote, the government of Pakistan will finally commit to abolishing the death penalty once and for all.
I wanted to specifically draw attention to the extrajudicial killings in this resolution, to demonstrate how this is not only a problem of the state itself, but also one that is seeping into Pakistani society.
"The number of occurrences that the blasphemy laws have been used or cited by local authorities and police has made it clear that the law is being used as a tool for revenge, intimidation and corruption"
The number of occurrences in which the blasphemy laws have been used or cited by local authorities and police has made it clear that the law is being used as a tool for revenge, intimidation and corruption.
According to the Islamabad-based centre for research and security studies, at least 60 people have been reported killed outside the Pakistani justice system in cases relating to blasphemy since 1990.
The misuse of these laws affects people of all faiths in Pakistan, but are increasingly used against religious minorities. This feeds a climate of fear, where it is one person's word against the other that could result in not only charges under these laws, but harassment, attack and murder by mobs who feel they have justification for their vigilantism.
This has to be stopped. We have now called for the prompt and impartial investigation of all the perpetrators of violence against those accused of blasphemy, and for the government to provide sufficient protection to the so-called blasphemers, their families, and the lawyers defending those standing trial. Pakistanis must feel safe within their communities.
In a country that is as culturally rich as Pakistan, it is devastating to see this problem continue to poison and divide Pakistani society. It is time that Pakistan embraces its human rights obligations and the constitutional duty it owes to its citizens to protect them, whether they are Christian, Muslim, Hindu or atheist.