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PM Abbasi cowardly dodges questions on blasphemy laws at the UNGA

London: September 25, 2017. (PCP) Pakistani Prime Minister Shahid Khakan Abbasi has refused to talk about the country’s blasphemy laws at the United Nations General Assembly.

He is currently in New York to attend the 72nd session of the United Nations General Assembly and was speaking at a session organised by U.S. think tank Council on Foreign Relations (CFR).

Kenneth Roth, Director of the Human Rights Watch, raised the question whether he as a Prime Minister would speak out against the blasphemy laws, while NY Times correspondent David Sanger urged him to speak out on the issue as he is in a position of both great political and moral leadership.

But in his response, Mr Abbasi stated that the laws of the country are clear and refused to talk about them further by referring to the Pakistan’s Parliament as a body responsible to amend the laws.

He also said that his role as a Prime Minister as being part of the Government is evolved around responsibility to stop misuse of the blasphemy laws.

His statement in which he dissociated himself from any responsibilities to call for amendment of the draconian blasphemy laws was commented on social media as cowardice.

Nasir Saeed Director, CLAAS-UK has said that years of not addressing the issue of the blasphemy law has meant it has become a sensitive issue and even the prime minister of Pakistan is scared of making any comments.

He said: “Mr Abbasi’s role as Prime Minister is to provide political and moral leadership to the Parliament and therefore, we condemn the statement in which he refuses to urge the Parliament to take necessary actions for these laws to be repealed or at least substantially amended.

“Importantly, his statement he says that his primary role as Prime Minister is to ensure that the laws are not abused or misused, but unfortunately these laws are being regularly exploited and many innocent people have been persecuted and prosecuted as a consequence.”

In recent years the misuse of the blasphemy law has increased. There are a number of occurrences in which the blasphemy laws have been used or cited by local authorities, and the police have made it clear that the law is being used as a tool for revenge, intimidation over petty disputes, or to settle personal grudges.

It is now considered an easy, quick and inexpensive way to settle personal scores and punish opponents, something which has been admitted by many religious scholars and political leadership.

There is a long list, but a very recent example of the exploitation of the blasphemy law is that Nadeem James has been sentenced to death after he was accused of sending a Muslim friend a blasphemous Whatsapp message, while he denies sending any such messages. Mishaal Khan’s killing is another bad example, while Asia Bibi is about to complete her 3000th day in prison and there is still no sign of her case being heard.

Mr Saeed continued: “The blasphemy laws are not being in compliance with international human rights standards is not the only concern. Their exploitation that leads to further violations of international human rights law is a further burden but the government of Pakistan has failed to address the issues and I fear that such an important matter is not on their agenda, despite it being a matter of life and death.”

There are reports about a large number of blasphemy cases being based on false accusations and the absence of investigation and prosecutions. The Supreme Court of Pakistan in a judgement in 2015 said that it is an unfortunate fact which cannot be disputed that in many cases registered in respect of the offence of blasphemy, false allegations are levelled for extraneous purposes and in the absence of adequate safeguards against exploitation of such laws by motivated persons those falsely accused of the commission of that offence suffer beyond proportion or repair.

We urge Mr Abbasi to put this matter on his government’s agenda, bring this issue to parliament, have a debate and then amend it accordingly to stop its ongoing misuse.