Twenty-four British politicians pleaded with Pakistan’s leaders to repeal blasphemy laws on the 70th anniversary of the country’s independence from Britain.
The British MPs sent a letter to Pakistan’s president and prime minister Monday urging Pakistan to repeal discriminatory laws first imposed by British rulers. The Pakistani government has used the laws to persecute non-Sunni religious minorities, including other Muslim sects, Christians and Hindus, according to Christianity Today. U.K. Labor Party’s Siobhain McDonagh, the woman who chairs an inter-party group for Ahmadiyya Muslims, led the politicians’ efforts to pressure the Pakistani government. The Ahmadiyya are a sect persecuted as heretics across much of the Muslim world.
“The Ahmadiyya Muslim community and other religious minorities, including Shia Muslims, Christians and Hindus, suffer a denial of religious freedom at the hands of the state, compounded by harassment, violence and persecution from extremists,” McDonagh said.
McDonagh claimed that Pakistan’s current hostile stance toward religious minorities contrasted with the original vision of a Pakistan “united, open and free, where religious freedom” is preserved for all.
British rulers first imposed blasphemy laws on Pakistan in 1860, when the country was still part of India, according to the BBC. Britain expanded the laws in 1927 and Pakistan kept and further expanded them after the country violently separated from India in 1947.
The British MPs’ attempt to assert political pressure on Pakistan on the anniversary of Pakistani independence came weeks after the United Nations addressed Pakistan’s blasphemy laws more directly. The U.N. ordered Pakistanto begin repealing or amending its blasphemy laws within a year by June 27, 2018– a one-year timeline. The U.N. stipulated that Pakistan must:
(a) Repeal all blasphemy laws or amend them in compliance with the strict requirements of the Covenant, including as set forth in general comment No. 34, para. 48;
(b) Ensure that all those who incite or engage in violence against others based on allegations of blasphemy as well as those who falsely accuse others of blasphemy are brought to justice and duly punished;
(c) Take all measures necessary to ensure adequate protection of all judges, prosecutors, lawyers and witnesses involved in blasphemy cases;
(d) Ensure that all cases of hate speech and hate crimes are thoroughly and promptly investigated and perpetrators are prosecuted and, if convicted, punished;
(e) Review school textbooks and curricula with a view to removing all religiously biased content and incorporate human rights education therein, and continue to regulate madrassas;
(f) Fully implement the judgement of the Supreme Court on 19 June 2014.
Those charged for violations of the blasphemy laws are most often religious minorities, commonly accused of desecrating a Koran, according to the BBC. In many cases, the law has been used to settle personal vendettas rather than religious disputes. Under the law, Pakistan has prosecuted 633 Muslims, 494 Ahmedis, 187 Christians, and 21 Hindus since 1987 according to the National Commission for Justice and Peace.
Past efforts from Pakistani leaders to repeal the laws were met with violence. Punjab Gov. Salman Taseer was assassinated by his own bodyguard in 2011 after Taseer consistently criticized the laws. Sherry Rehman of the Pakistan People’s Party introduced a private bill in 2010 to amend the blasphemy laws, but the parliament withdrew the bill in 2011 when pressured by Muslim proponents of the laws.