KARACHI: Pakistan's government should immediately take legal action against Islamist militant groups and others responsible for threats and violence against minorities and other vulnerable groups, Human Rights Watch demanded on Saturday in the aftermath of devastating attacks on Christian minority in Lahore.
While international and Pakistani human rights groups have long called for the reform or repeal of the blasphemy law, it has come under renewed scrutiny after a mob torched dozens of houses located in a Christian neighbourhood in Lahore, forcing hundreds of Christians to flee.
An enraged mob attacked the houses in Joseph Colony following allegations of blasphemy against a Christian man. The man was booked under Section 295-C of the Pakistan Penal Code (PPC).
“The Punjab provincial government has spent almost its entire 5-year term in office being in denial about threats to minorities,” said Ali Dayan Hasan, Pakistan director at Human Rights Watch, in a statement issued from New York.
“Unless Pakistan’s federal and provincial authorities are following a policy of willful discrimination, law enforcement authorities need to put aside their prejudices and protect religious minorities who are clearly in serious danger,” he said.
Social persecution and legal discrimination against religious minorities has become particularly widespread in Punjab province.
The HRW has urged the provincial government, controlled by former prime minister Nawaz Sharif's Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), to investigate and prosecute as appropriate campaigns of intimidation, threats, and violence against Christians, Ahmadis, and other vulnerable groups.
The Human Rights Watch has also urged concerned governments and intergovernmental bodies to press the Pakistani government to repeal sections 295 and 298 of the Pakistan Penal Code, which includes the blasphemy law and anti-Ahmadiyya laws.
Pakistan's "Blasphemy Law," as section 295-C of the penal code is known, makes the death penalty effectively mandatory for blasphemy.
“The ugly fact is that the blasphemy law is an enabler of mob violence against vulnerable groups,” said Hasan.
“As long as such laws remain on the books and the authorities remain unwilling or unable to rein in mobs playing judge, jury and executioner, Pakistan will remain plagued by abuse in the name of religion,” he added.