The Foreign Office (FO) on Monday summoned the French ambassador, Marc Baréty, to lodge a "strong protest" against the publication of blasphemous sketches and recent comments made by French President Emmanuel Macron.
In a statement, FO Spokesperson Zahid Hafeez Chaudhry said that the ambassador was handed over a dossier by the special secretary (Europe).
The ambassador was told about Pakistan's condemnation of the publication of blasphemous sketches and the comments later made by Macron, the spokesperson said.
On Wednesday, Macron had criticised Islamists and vowed not to “give up cartoons” depicting Prophet Muhammad (Peace Be Upon Him). The French president also contended that Samuel Paty, a teacher who was beheaded recently for showing the blasphemous sketches, was “killed because Islamists want our future”.
In the days that followed the beheading, the caricatures were projected onto the facade of a building in one city and people displayed them at protests around the country.
The French envoy was conveyed Pakistan's "deep concerns over the recent systematic resurgence of blasphemous acts of republication of caricatures of the Holy Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) and desecration of the Holy Quran by certain irresponsible elements", the FO spokesperson said.
It was underscored that such "illegal and Islamophobic acts" hurt the sentiments of Muslims across the world and "could not be justified in the name of freedom of expression", he added.
The ambassador was also told that Pakistan strongly condemned equating Islam with terrorism "for narrow electoral and political gains", Chaudhry said, emphasising that such provocative statements and actions were fanning inter-religious hatred and confrontation.
"It was reiterated that freedom of expression should not be misused as [a] means to attack or hurt public sentiments or religious beliefs," the spokesperson added.
"At a time of rising racism, intolerance and populism, there is a need to promote harmony among peoples and communities instead of reinforcing stereotypes and making people alienated."
In a statement carried by Radio Pakistan, Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi said on Monday that Macron's irresponsible statement had added "fuel to the fire".
"Nobody has the right to hurt the sentiments of millions of Muslims under the guise of freedom of expression," he said.
The foreign minister also urged the United Nations to take notice and called for action against the hate-based narrative against Islam, the report added.
In the statement released today, Qureshi added that a comprehensive resolution will be presented at the next Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) foreign ministers' meeting proposing to observe March 15 as the International Day against Islamophobia.
'Pakistan seeks global legislation against blasphemy'
Speaking at a press conference, Special Representative of the Prime Minister on Religious Harmony Hafiz Tahir Mehmood Ashrafi said the government wanted legislation to be conducted at the UN level which would criminalise blasphemy against all religions and sacred personalities.
Ashrafi said Foreign Minister Qureshi, Prime Minister Imran Khan and he were in touch with the leadership of Muslim and non-Muslim countries, organisations working on inter-faith harmony and the OIC to accomplish this.
He announced that the government will constitute 'inter-faith harmony councils' across the country which will operate from the Centre to the Union Council levels.
Answering a question, he said "no country has played a better role than Pakistan" on the issue of blasphemous sketches in the past two days and the Muslim world was praising Pakistan's stance on the matter.
Asked whether the government was considering boycotting French products, Ashrafi said the government was moving ahead "step by step" and instead of taking emotional measures, it wanted a permanent solution to the issue.
In a tweet earlier in the day, Ashrafi said the issue of blasphemous sketches would be taken up by the OIC. He said that France had hurt the sentiments of millions of Muslims during the month of Rabiul Awwal.
PM Imran denounces Macron's comments
The summoning of the French ambassador comes a day after Prime Minister Imran denounced Macron’s remarks on blasphemous caricatures, calling them “encouragement of Islamophobia”, and wrote to Facebook CEO Mark Mark Zuckerberg seeking a ban on Islamophobic content on the social media site.
In a series of tweets, PM Imran said the sign of a leader was that he united people like former South African president Nelson Mandela.
The premier regretted that the French president had instead chosen to encourage Islamophobia by “attacking Islam rather than the terrorists who carry out violence, be it Muslims, white supremacists or Nazi ideologists”.
“By attacking Islam, clearly without having any understanding of it, Macron has attacked and hurt the sentiments of millions of Muslims in Europe and across the world,” he said, adding that, “the last thing the world wants or needs is further polarisation”.
Public statements based on ignorance will create more hate, Islamophobia and space for extremists, he said.
Meanwhile, in a letter addressed to Facebook's CEO, the prime minister asked the social media giant to place a ban on Islamophobia and hate against Islam just as it had placed on the Holocaust.
“I am writing to draw your attention to the growing Islamophobia that is encouraging hate, extremism and violence across the world and especially through the use of social media platforms including Facebook. I appreciate your taking the step to rightly ban any posting that criticises or questions the Holocaust, which was the culmination of the Nazi pogrom of the Jews in Germany and across Europe as Nazis spread across Europe," he said in the letter.
“Given the rampant abuse and vilification of Muslims on social media platforms, I would ask you to place a similar ban on Islamophobia and hate against Islam for Facebook that you have put in place for the Holocaust,” he added.
'Systematic resurgence' of blasphemous acts
The Foreign Office on Sunday also issued a statement saying Pakistan condemned in the strongest manner the systematic resurgence of blasphemous acts of republication of caricatures of the Prophet (Peace Be Upon Him) and desecration of the Holy Quran by certain irresponsible elements in some developed countries.
“We are further alarmed at highly disturbing statements by certain politicians justifying such heinous acts under the garb of freedom of expression and equating Islam with terrorism, for narrow electoral and political gains,” the statement said.
It said that under international human rights law, the exercise of the right to freedom of expression carried with it special duties and responsibilities.