"The misuse of blasphemy law is contrary to the vision of Pakistan as a moderate and democratic country,” said Mohammad Tahseen, in a public hearing on the “Misuse of blasphemy law and religious minorities in Pakistan” organised by the World Council of Churches (WCC) in Geneva, Switzerland.
“The religious voices, as part of the civil society must reject the concept of second class citizenship, asserting equality of all human beings in a democracy,” said Tahseen.
Tahseen, founder and director of South Asia Partnership in Pakistan was addressing the public hearing on 17 September, on its first day. The meeting is organised by the WCC’s Commission of the Churches on International Affairs (CCIA).
The blasphemy cases have often resulted in death penalties and mob-instigated violence, following the amendments to the blasphemy law made by then military ruler General Zia-ul-Haq in 1980s. The blasphemy law has often been criticised as vague and arbitrary.
In his keynote address, Tahseen pointed out the lack of democracy in Pakistan, the history of the country’s participation in the Soviet war in Afghanistan in the 1980s and developments following 9/11 as major factors behind the violence perpetrated in the name of Islam.
“In Pakistan we are fighting against the blasphemy law and its abuse. However, it is also important that the international community supports the values of democracy and people’s struggles in Pakistan,” added Tahseen.
Tahseen is one of the renowned activists spearheading struggles for the rights of religious minorities, women and other vulnerable groups in Pakistan.
Asiya Nasir, member of the National Assembly in Pakistan, also spoke at the session on 'Misuse of blasphemy law and human rights violations in Pakistan'. “In the parliament we have been voicing concerns of the Christians and other religious minorities in Pakistan,” said Nasir.
“We must go back to the vision of our founder Mohammed Ali Jinnah, who stressed on the rights of all people, regardless of their religion,” she added. Nasir, who is from Baluchistan province, is the only Christian woman representing Jamiat ulema e Islam (Assembly of Islamic Clergy) in the Pakistani parliament.
Bishop Samuel Azariah, moderator of the Church of Pakistan, and Dr K. B. Rokaya, president of the Christian Conference of Asia, shared greetings with the participants. Among the other speakers were Moulana Muhammad Hanif Jallandhari, federal secretary of Wafaqul Madares (Association of Islamic Institutions); Rev Fr Emmanuel Yousaf of the Roman Catholic Church in Pakistan; and Haroon of the All Hindu Minority Alliance of Pakistan.
In an opening message, the WCC General Secretary Rev Dr Olav Fykse Tveit expressed “solidarity” with Christians and other vulnerable groups in Pakistan, who have been victimised by the blasphemy law.
“Reports from Pakistan reveal the fact that repression, intolerance, and fear have become the order of the day in many parts of the country. The minority communities in Pakistan continue to suffer because of the misuse of the blasphemy law in Pakistan, which is used to target different minority communities,” said Tveit.
“As we continue to follow with concern the use of blasphemy law against members of religious minorities in Pakistan, it is high time that the international community should address this issue with urgency,” he added.
The meeting continues the WCC’s efforts to support religious minorities in Pakistan victimised in the name of its controversial blasphemy law. The public hearing will continue until 19 September and will include a side event at the United Nations office in Geneva.