The country’s highly controversial blasphemy laws came under close scrutiny as delegates considered the multiple ways in which the laws are abused. Several delegates presented individual cases, including one of an 11 year-old girl, falsely accused of burning pages from the Koran. The conference heard that such allegations are often levelled as a means of settling personal grievances. The consequences can be severe – defamation of the prophet Muhammed carries a mandatory death sentence in Pakistan.
Delegates were highly critical of the European Commission, and of EU High Representative Josep Borrell, for being “weak” and “ambiguous” in their approach to dealing with the issue. Willy Fautré, director of Brussels-based Human Rights Without Frontiers, accused Borrell of “avoiding the issue” of the blasphemy laws in his dealings with Pakistan. His words were echoed by Manel Msalmi, international affairs advisor to MEPs of the European Peoples’ Party at the European Parliament: “The role of Europe is really important in putting pressure on Pakistan and indeed on other countries that threaten people on the basis of blasphemy laws. We cannot permit that people can be threatened, killed, blackmailed by such laws.” Delegates heard evidence of the laws being used for purposes of “ethnic cleansing”.
However, it was also stressed that Muslims themselves were at risk of fouling foul of the laws, especially if they spoke out against them. The level of resistance to the laws from within the Muslim community, and in Pakistan itself, was evidenced by messages of support received online during the event.
“Assalamo alaikum. My congratulations to all.” – S.A.M., Ahmadiyya Muslim Community. “Thanks for raising such an important issue which has been putting thousands of people’s lives at risk in Pakistan.” – A.M., Minority Concern Pakistan.
Full list of speakers:
Andy Vermaut, AIDL (moderator).
Paulo Casada, former MEP, Founder and executive director of the “South Asia Democratic Forum”.
Jürgen Klute, former MEP, Christian theologian.
Willy Fautré, Director, Human Rights Without Frontiers.
Manel Msalmi, International affairs Advisor of MEPs of the European Peoples’ Party at the European Parliament.
Cecil Shane Choudray, Christian Solidarity Worldwide.
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