Rights watchdog condemns Pak record on minorities

The Pakistan government should immediately take legal action against Islamist militant groups and others responsible for threats and violence against minorities.

Islamabad: The Pakistan 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 has said.

HRW said Pakistan`s controversial blasphemy law had "come under renewed scrutiny" after a mob torched scores of homes in a Christian neighbourhood in Lahore yesterday and forced hundreds of Christians to flee.

The mob attacked the neighbourhood after a Muslim man accused a Christian of committing blasphemy.

"Local authorities, including the provincial police, stood by and did not protect either the Christians that were threatened or their homes," HRW said in a statement.

"The Punjab provincial government has spent almost its entire five-year term in office being in denial about threats to minorities," said Ali Dayan Hasan, Pakistan director at HRW.

"Unless Pakistan`s federal and provincial authorities are following a policy of wilful discrimination, law enforcement authorities need to put aside their prejudices and protect religious minorities who are clearly in serious danger."

Savan Masih, the 26-year-old Christian accused of blasphemy, has been arrested by police.

About 50 people have been arrested in connection with the attack on the Christian neighbourhood of Joseph Colony.

HRW said social persecution and legal discrimination against religious minorities has become particularly widespread in Punjab province.

It urged the Punjab government, led by former premier Nawaz Sharif`s PML-N party, to investigate and prosecute those behind campaigns of intimidation, threats and violence against Christians, Ahmadis and other vulnerable groups.

"Abuses under the country`s blasphemy law continued as dozens were charged in 2012 and at least 16 people remained on death row for blasphemy, while another 20 served life sentences," HRW said.

Aasia Bibi, a Christian from Punjab province, who in 2010 became the first woman in Pakistan`s history to be sentenced to death for blasphemy, continues to languish in prison.

In July 2012, police arrested a man who appeared to suffer from a mental disability for allegedly burning the Quran.

A mob organised by local clerics demanded the man be handed to them, attacked a police station, pulled the victim out and burned him alive, HRW said.

Members of the Ahmadi community continued to be a major
target for blasphemy prosecutions and were subjected to specific anti-Ahmadi laws across Pakistan.

"They faced increasing social discrimination as militant groups used provisions of the law to prevent Ahmadis from `posing as Muslims,` forced the demolition of Ahmadi mosques in Lahore, barred Ahmadis from using their mosques in Rawalpindi, and vandalized Ahmadi graves across Punjab province," the statement said.

"In most instances, Punjab provincial officials supported militants` demands instead of protecting Ahmadis and their mosques and graveyards," it said.

"The ugly fact is that the blasphemy law is an enabler of mob violence against vulnerable groups," Hasan said.

"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."