Shireen Mazari writes to UN over 'misuse of blasphemy laws' against Imran

Published May 4, 2022
Shireen Mazari writes letter to UNHCR over 'misuse of blasphemy laws' against Imran Khan. —APP
Shireen Mazari writes letter to UNHCR over 'misuse of blasphemy laws' against Imran Khan. —APP

Former human rights minister and Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) core committee member Shireen Mazari has written to special rapporteurs of the UN, calling for their intervention to cease the Pakistani government's "misuse of the blasphemy law" against Imran Khan and senior PTI leaders.

The letter dated May 2, a copy of which is available with Dawn.com, has been addressed to the UN's special rapporteur on extrajudicial summary or arbitrary executions, special rapporteur on the freedom of opinion and expression, and special rapporteur on the freedom of religion and belief.

It stated that Pakistan had been engulfed in a political crisis ever since the Imran Khan-led government was ousted in the aftermath of a "regime change scheme" and replaced with a government led by Shehbaz Sharif, who has been named in "multiple money-laundering and corruption cases and is out on bail".

In March, Mazari recalled, Imran's government had concluded in a cabinet meeting that there had been a "US-backed regime-change conspiracy" against the former prime minister assisted by the "establishment" and "opposition political parties".

"This conclusion was premised upon the content of a cipher message received from Pakistan's envoy in Washington DC detailing a formal meeting between Mr Donald Lu of the State Department with the envoy and 3 other members of the embassy along with note-takers on both sides."

The cipher message, the letter stated, reflected the anger of the US over Imran's visit to Russia just as the Ukrainian military conflict was about to begin. It continued that if the no-trust motion against Imran succeeded, "all would be forgiven".

Mazari then mentioned that the events that followed included the submission of the no-confidence motion, the National Assembly (NA) deputy speaker's rejection of the motion and the Supreme Court's intervention in the matter which ultimately resulted in Imran's ouster.

"Since then, there has been a groundswell of public anger reflected in huge rallies by Imran Khan's parties across the country as he leads a movement for the restoration of democracy and sovereignty of Pakistan," the letter said.

However, it added, the government, "backed by the establishment", had responded with repressive measures.

Subsequently, the PTI leader drew UNHCR's attention to what she called three major human rights violations conducted against Imran.

"One: A complete blackout of media coverage by state-owned media as well as almost all private channels through a carrot (advertisements) and stick (establishment). In this connection, the government-controlled PTCL, which provides cable connections to cable operators, has denied this access to any private channel seen covering Khan's massive rallies."

The second violation highlighted by Mazari was the registration of blasphemy cases against Imran and PTI leaders in connection with the Masjid-e-Nabwi incident where Shehbaz Sharif and his federal ministers were heckled by a crowd of Pakistani pilgrims.

She argued that it was not a planned incident as similar treatment had taken place with opposition members at other places as well. "To use the Madina incident as an excuse to file charges of blasphemy means endangering lives of Imran and party's leadership," Mazari wrote.

"It also provides for making immediate arrests and one member of the NA from the PTI-allied party was immediately taken into custody on arrival at Islamabad airport on blasphemy charges."

The letter added that even though an FIR was not registered, Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah had warned Imran and his supporters of arrests.

Subsequently, Mazari requested the United Nations Special Procedures mechanism to intervene with the Pakistani government to: immediately cease the misuse of the blasphemy law against political opponents, stop media censorship, and stop denying the right to peaceful protest through repressive measures and blocking of protest sites.

Imran, PTI leaders booked

On Sunday, Faisalabad police had registered a case under ‘blasphemy laws’ against the PTI chairman and over 150 others, including some stalwarts of the party, in the wake of the Masjid-i-Nabwi incident.

The FIR was registered under the following sections of the Pakistan Penal Code: 295 (harming or defiling a place of worship with intent to insult a religion), 295-A (deliberate and malicious acts intended to outrage religious feelings of any class by insulting its religion or religious beliefs), 296 (disturbing religious assembly) and 109 (abetment).

Complainant Muhammad Naeem, a resident of Faisalabad, nominated top leaders of the PTI and Imran's close associates, including Chaudhry, Gill, Suri, Sahibzada Jahangir, Aneel Musarrat as well as Sheikh Rashid Ahmed and his nephew Sheikh Rashid Shafiq.

The complainant alleged the Masjid-i-Nabwi episode was a “planned and thought-out conspiracy” and supported his claims by referring to videos and speeches made by certain PTI leaders.

Subsequently, on Monday, PTI leader and former information minister Fawad Chaudhry filed a writ petition in the Islamabad High Court (IHC), calling for the cases to be termed “illegal”.

Fawad said that the newly appointed interior minister had been targeting the PTI leadership and had also "openly threatened" them with dire consequences.

The petition urged the court to direct the respondents to "immediately stop the unlawful and illegal harassment of the petitioner and his colleagues [...] in the interest of justice equity and fair play."

It also called for placing all the FIRs registered against the PTI leadership in various parts of the country on record.

Pilgrims accost, chant slogans against PM Shehbaz, federal ministers

Last week, a group of Pakistani pilgrims had accosted, heckled, and chanted slogans at Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif and his entourage at the Masjid-i-Nabwi in Madina during their three-day visit — their first foreign trip since assuming office — to Saudi Arabia.

According to videos circulating on social media, Pakistani pilgrims at the mosque started chanting slogans of "chor, chor" (thieves, thieves) as soon as they saw the prime minister.

In another video, the pilgrims could be seen heckling and hurling obscenities at federal ministers Marriyum Aurangzeb and Shahzain Bugti, as the pair are escorted by Saudi guards. In another video, a pilgrim could be seen pulling Bugti's hair from behind.

Following the incident, the media director of the Embassy of Saudi Arabia in Islamabad confirmed that some of the pilgrims involved in the incident had been arrested. The official said that the protesters had been taken into custody for "violating the regulations" and "disrespecting" the sanctity of the holy mosque.

Politicians and other religious figures had swiftly condemned the incident, however, some had blamed the PTI. For his part, Imran Khan said he could "not even imagine" asking anyone to carry out sloganeering at the sacred place.

"I have spoken about Islamophobia at every forum," he said in a snippet from an interview that will be aired on the first day of Eidul Fitr.

"The reason for doing so is my belief that until you do not love Prophet Muhammad (Peace Be Upon Him), your faith is not complete. I cannot think of asking anyone to do sloganeering at that sacred place. Nobody who loves the Prophet (PBUH) can even think of it," he said.

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