Pakistan's trial of blasphemy in anti-terror courts brought before the UN Anti-Discrimination Committee

New Delhi: Asian Centre for Human Rights (ACHR) sought the interventions of the United Nations Committee on the International Convention Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (CERD Committee) against the trial of minorities accused of blasphemy in anti-terror courts in Pakistan. The CERD Committee taking strong exceptions to the failure of the Pakistan government to submit its five periodic reports to the CERD Committee since January 1998 decided to consider the situation of Pakistan on 14 August 2007 without the report of the government of Pakistan.

It its shadow report, “Pakistan: The Land of Religious Apartheid and Jackboot Justice – A report to the UN Committee Against Racism”, submitted to the UN CERD Committee, ACHR stated “discrimination based on the ethnic, linguistic or racial identities is rampant but Pakistan recognises only religious minorities. The armed conflicts in Balochistan and the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) show that Pakistan has miserably failed to subsume ethnic, linguistic and racial identities under the rubric of Islam”.

Apart from providing preferential treatment to the majority Muslims under the constitution, religious minorities have been systematically targeted under the blasphemy laws provided under the Pakistan Penal Code. Though Christians, Hindus and Ahmadis constitute only slightly more than 4% of the total population of Pakistan, they have been disproportionate victims of the blasphemy laws. Between 1 January to 1 June 2007, at least 25 persons out of which 16 were Christians were booked under blasphemy laws. In 2006, out of 90 cases of blasphemy, 48 were registered with the police in which 27 accused were Muslims, 10 Christians and 11 Ahmadis.

“The trial of blasphemy in anti-terror courts by the government of Pakistan itself is an act of sacrilege.” – stated Mr Suhas Chakma, Director of ACHR.

Citing specific cases, ACHR stated Mr. Saeed Ahmad, an Ahmadi who was arrested under Section 298-C of Pakistan Penal Code at Nakdar Police Station in Sargodha district (FIR No 73/2007) is being tried in the Anti-Terror court pursuant to the Clause 9 of the Anti-Terrorism Ordinance. Earlier on 25 November 2006, an Anti-Terror Court sentenced two Christians - James Masih and Buta Masih - to 10 years imprisonment in addition to a fine of Rupees 25,000 for committing “blasphemy” against the Quran in October 2006 in Faisalabad district.

Even religious minority children have been charged under the Maintenance of Public Order Ordinance (MPO). On 26 January 2007, Chora Kalan police station in Khushab district registered cases against five Ahmadi children including 11-year-old Nusrat Jahan and 8-year-old Umair Ahmad under Section 17 of the MPO for subscribing to Jamaat-e-Ahmadiya's monthly children's magazine, Tasheezul Azhan.

“It is a crime for the Hindus to have land and beautiful daughters. Kidnapping, rape and forcible marriage of Hindu girls is a common practice. In case of arrest, the accused can get away by producing a certificate issued by any Muslim seminary that the kidnapped girls have voluntarily adopted Islam and the accused have married the girls.” – stated Mr Suhas Chakma, Director of ACHR.

Christians are being threatened by the Islamic armed groups to convert to Islam. In May 2007, many Christian families reportedly fled their homes at Charsada in NWFP after Islamic militants threatened them of dire consequences if they failed to convert to Islam. In June 2007, Christians of Shantinagar village of Khanewal district in Punjab received similar threats to embrace Islam.

Ethnic minorities face systematic persecution. The Pakistan Army and Pakistan Air Force have been using disproportionate fire-arms including aerial bombing on the civilians in the name of confronting the Baloch armed opposition groups. On 30 March 2007, at least 18 women, children and elderly persons were reportedly killed when fighter jets and gunship helicopters bombarded Baloch villages of Lanju and Sagari in Sui.

Hundreds of Balochis have disappeared at the hands of Pakistan security forces and on 1 August 2007, the Supreme Court issued suo motu notices to Chief Secretary and Provincial Police Officer of Balochistan on the rising number of disappearances in the province.

In the Federally Administered Tribal Areas, Pakistan institutionalised Talebani system of justice under the draconian Frontier Crime Regulation (FCR) of 1901. The FCR provides for collective punishment to the family members or blood relatives instead of punishing only the guilty and gives arbitrary powers to the Political Agents and Assistant Political Agents of the government including sanctioning of sentences passed by the jirga without any legal representation by the accused or ordering detention of the accused and their family members. Under Article 247(7) of the constitution, the higher judiciary does not have jurisdictions over FATA.

The application of the principle of "double jeopardy" which is antithetical to the tenets of penal justice is routine in FATA. Tribal prisoners in FATA often served two or more sentences for the same crime. Rahimullah, a tribal was sentenced under section 40 of the FCR on 15 December 2003 but before the completion of his first jail term, the Assistant Political Agent (APA) of Bara Agency passed another order on 14 January 2005 against him in the same crime. As if that was not enough, before the completion of the second illegal jail term, the APA passed a third conviction order on 25 May 2006, for another three years for the same crime.

“The Talebanisation of the FATA can also be attributed to the lack of any judicial and administrative reforms in the last 50 years”- stated Mr Chakma.

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