HRCP wants proactive govt measures to curb violence against minorities

Press Release, 14 September 2009

Lahore, September 14: The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan on Monday expressed concern over increasing frequency of violent attacks on religious minorities and demanded that the government take proactive measures to prevent such violence.

Reacting to the recent torching of a church in Sambarial, Sialkot district, HRCP said in a press statement: “The Commission has been warning the government of the growing intolerance of religious minorities’ rights and pointing towards the increasing frequency of vigilante actions against them. It has repeatedly expressed concern at attacks on non-Muslims over allegations of blasphemy and desecration of religious scriptures. It is unfortunate that our fears of recurrence of such violence again proved to be true in Sambarial last week.

The government response in the face of a recent spurt in incidents of violence against minorities – mainly belated announcements of financial compensation and some attempts at encouraging reconciliation at the local level – has clearly been insufficient and exclusively reactive.

The Commission would emphasise that another attack targeting the minorities is a question of when, not if, unless the government acknowledges in a meaningful manner the threat extremism and intolerance pose to society, understand the dynamics fuelling the phenomenon and take urgent and effective remedial measures.

The allegations of blasphemy or defiling of religious scriptures, irrespective of their veracity, do not warrant vigilante attacks. Nor do they absolve the government of its primary duty to protect all citizens. Effective prosecution would serve as a deterrent to future attacks, while a lack thereof would encourage impunity.”

I. A. Rehman, Secretary-General

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Factory owner was killed in police presence

Press Release, 7 August 2009

Lahore: The recent killing of a factory-owner in Sheikhupura at the hands of an angry mob took place in the presence of unarmed policemen, which reflects on poor professional capacity of the Punjab police in handling such sensitive and volatile situations, says the Human Rights Commission which conducted a fact-finding mission on the incident.

The HRCP team found out that on August 4 the police had arrived at the scene of the incident at Eastern Leather Factory Muridke when the factory-owner Mr Najib Zafar was in his office and he was wounded in a scuffle with some angry factory workers. Eye-witnesses told HRCP that the police hid Mr Najib in a store-room so as to keep him away from some violent workers.

The police men who arrived at the factory were un-armed and could not prevent the violent crowd of villagers outside the factory from entering the premises of the factory. When the provoked villagers and the factory workers teamed up to storm the store-room, the policemen looked the other way to save their own skin. The mob was free to beat the owner to death. A labourer, Muzammil, also lost his life due to a stray bullet.

HRCP found that a factory clerk, Qasim Ali, exaggerated the fall of a calendar inscribed with Quranic verses as a desecration of Quran to instigate fellow factory workers against the owner. Soon after this, extremist elements in Muridke area made provocative announcements of the alleged desecration of Quran from the mosques of nearby villages without confirming the facts and incited the common people to attack the factory owner and kill him.

HRCP observed that after the incident, a widespread fear exists among factory owners in the region that the spread of such baseless rumours by unhappy factory workers against an owner may result in a replay of similar incident.

The family of the victim, Najib Zafar, told the HRCP team that they wanted the repeal of the blasphemy law for it has been abused by the extremist people like the factory clerk, Qasim Ali, to achieve their own nefarious objectives and spread violence.

HRCP also demands of the Punjab government to hold special refresher courses for the police staff to handle such delicate situations and act professionally on such occasions.

HRCP was told that there are more than 500 workers in the factory but there exists no trade union. It believes had there been a trade union there, it would have worked to channelize and resolve the grievances of the workers and to prevent such a violent incident.

HRCP is of the view that the government must ensure the implementation of Amplifier Act so that the loud-speakers of mosques could not be used by extremist elements to spread hostility and violence as it happened recently in Gojra and now in Sheikhupura.

Asma Jahangir, Chairperson

Gojra admin knew about pre-planned attacks: HRCP

Press Release, 4 August 2009

Lahore: Last week’s attacks targeting the Christian community in Gojra were not a spontaneous reaction to allegations of blasphemy but were planned in advance, a fact-finding mission of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) has found.

The mission’s report, released on Tuesday, said announcements made from mosques in Gojra on July 31 urged the Muslims to gather and “make mincemeat of the Christians”. Witnesses told HRCP that when they informed the police about the announcements, the police officials had also confirmed hearing the announcements.

On the following day, August 1, around 1,000 people gathered in the town and marched towards Christian Colony. A police contingent present in the neighbourhood did not try to stop the mob, which included a number of masked men.

Witnesses said the attackers went about destroying Christians’ houses in a very professional manner, and seemed to be trained for carrying out such activities. They had brought along petrol and other inflammable substances and torched over 40 houses of Christian families in less than half an hour. Many of these houses were looted before being torched. Muslims’ houses adjacent to the Christians’ houses were spared.

Witnesses said a number of attackers were from the banned Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan and other militant organisations. The Regional Police Officer (RPO) told HRCP that many of the attackers had come from outside the district, possibly from Jhang.

Amid the brutal killings and destruction in Gojra, the Commission also noted that some Muslims in the neighbourhood provided shelter to Christian women fleeing the violence.

The barbaric attacks are an embarrassment for any society or people who call themselves civilised.

HRCP believes that the local administration’s inaction ahead of the riots was intriguing.

HRCP said the tragic incidents of Gojra are a comprehensive failure by the government to protect minorities either through administrative measures or legislative ones. The culprits, including the local administration, must be brought to justice in an expeditious and transparent manner, HRCP said.

The government must act to prevent any attacked based on a person’s faith, instead of belatedly reacting through award of compensation. It must also ensure that its vows of ensuring interfaith harmony move beyond rhetoric, the HRCP report concluded.

Asma Jahangir
Chairperson

HRCP Press Release on Gojra and Korian Incident

Press Release, 1 August 2009

The religious riots in Korian village and Gojra are frightening, where Islamic Religious Zealots have taken the law into their own hands. According to information of HRCP, some local Muslims made allegations against Talib Masih, Mukhtar Masih and Imran Masih for burning the Holy Quran. The accused denied it vehemently and yet angry crowd of Muslims lead by religious preachers burnt down several Christian houses on July 30th, 2009, the day a wedding was to take place between the children of the two accused. Islamic militants from the outside the village has created an atmosphere of fear and has destroyed and burnt property using firearms and explosive. Six people have reportedly been killed and several wounded or burnt. The situation remains tense.

HRCP urges the Chief Minister to intervene and save the lives of innocent Christians living in Gojra, Korian and villages nearby. Those who violated the law be arrested and an independent investigation be conducted. Anyone, who has given rise to an atmosphere of hostility against a minority community should be apprehended and tried.

Dr. Mehdi Hassan
Vice chairperson
HRCP

FACT-FINDING REPORT: Filing of blasphemy charges against 5 Ahmadis in Layyah district

FACT-FINDING REPORT: Filing of blasphemy charges against 5 Ahmadis in Layyah district.

February 1-2, 2009

 

Background

 

On January 29, 2009, the print and electronic media reported that a case for blasphemy had been registered against five persons of the Ahmadiyya community under Section 295-C of the Pakistan Penal Code (PPC) in Kot Sultan police station of Layyah district. A complaint lodged with the police accused five Ahmadis of writing the name of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) on the walls of the mosque’s toilet in village 172/TDA. The accused named in the First Information Report (FIR) included minor males and matriculation students. All accused subsequently voluntarily appeared before the police and were arrested. The accused denied the allegations vehemently.

 

The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) sent a fact-finding mission to Layyah on February 1-2, 2009 to verify the facts. The mission included Mr. Mehboob Ahmad Khan (HRCP legal officer), Mr. Nadeem Anthony (HRCP Council member), Mr. Irfan Barkat (human rights activist), Mr. Munawar Ali Shahid (journalist/HRCP member), Mr. Waqar Gillani (journalist), Mr. Abdul Manan (journalist), Mr. Asif Yaqoob (activist) and Mr. Fareedullah (journalist). During its visit to Layyah, the HRCP team met villagers, members of the Ahmadiyya community and the local administration.

 

The complete fact-finding report can be read here.

Ahmadis held without any evidence of blasphemy: HRCP

Press Release, February 12, 2009

 

LAHORE: Five Ahmadis detained on charges of blasphemy in Layyah district have been held without virtually any proof or witnesses, the Human Rights Commission (HRCP) said on Thursday.

 

The commission, which had sent a fact-finding team to Layyah district last week, said its findings concluded that an investigation, mandated by law prior to the registration of a blasphemy case, was also not held.

 

The HRCP team learned that a prayer leader in the village had allowed Ahmadi students from a nearby tuition centre to offer prayers in his mosque. The students were later threatened by a government schoolteacher and never went to the mosque again. Around 10 days later, some villagers claimed finding blasphemous writings in the mosque’s toilet.

 

In the First Information Report (FIR), the complainant said: “Since these Ahmadis are the only non-Muslims coming to the mosque, therefore they must have committed the offence.” The ‘argument’ was heard time and again during the HRCP team’s interviews with the mosque administration, some villagers and the local police.

 

The police and villagers conceded that there were no witnesses or evidence of the Ahmadis’ involvement. The HRCP team found elements belonging to banned extremist organizations and a relative of the National Assembly member from the area had pressurised the police to register a case. “It is clear that a local politician has also used his influence” to book the Ahmadis, the commission’s report said.

 

HRCP said the complainant and his extremist supporters are adamant that the Ahmadis should be punished on the basis of presumption.

 

HRCP has demanded a prompt and transparent investigation into the matter to ensure that innocent people are not victimised. It has also demanded the government must ensure that the Ahmadiyya community in the village is not harassed or ostracized. The Commission has also asked the government to take prompt measures to rule out misuse of the blasphemy law.

 

The detailed fact-finding report can be accessed at the HRCP website: www.hrcp-web.org 

FACT-FINDING REPORT: Filing of blasphemy charges against 5 Ahmadis in Layyah district

 

Asma Jahangir

Chairperson

HRCP seeks abolition of death penalty, moratorium on executions

Press Release, October 10

 

Lahore: The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan has called upon the government to end the death penalty in the country, and place an immediate moratorium on executions until the punishment is abolished.

 

In a statement issued on World Day against the Death Penalty on Friday, the Commission said: The government of Pakistan should seriously consider moving towards the abolition of death penalty. While the government’s announcement in June to commute death sentences to life imprisonment was admirable, it has not been followed up by action.

 

The pronouncement of punishment and executions continue in Pakistan amid the acknowledged and well documented critical defects of the law, of the administration of justice, of the police investigation methods, the chronic corruption and the cultural prejudices affecting women and religious minorities. In the circumstances, the punishment allows for a high probability of miscarriages of justice, which is wholly unacceptable in any civilised society, but even more so when the punishment is irreversible.

 

The HRCP notes that, contrary to the much vaunted argument of deterrence, the systematic and generalised application of death penalty has not led to an improvement of the situation of law and order in the country.

 

It is ironic that while Pakistan has one of the highest rates of conviction to capital punishment in the world – with around 7,000 convicts on the death row in Pakistan today –  yet its law and order situation is alarmingly dismal. The massive application of death penalty has not strengthened the rule of law, but its application has, much on the contrary, weakened it substantially.

 

The death penalty is discriminatory, unfair and utterly inefficient and must be abandoned in accordance with the international human rights law.

 

In the very least the government should also promptly restrict the number of offences carrying the death sentence to the most serious crimes only, and refrain from adopting new crimes entailing capital punishment, in conformity with international human rights standards. Imposition of capital punishment, if it is to be passed at all must be in the rarest of cases and execution of it as a measure of last resort.

 

In the meanwhile, the government must adopt an immediate moratorium on executions in light of the serious shortcomings of due process and fair trial in the criminal justice system. There is a serious danger of miscarriage of justice resulting in taking an innocent life if executions are carried out without serious review of the law and its practice. It is vital that the criminal legal system be thoroughly reformed to reduce the incidence of crimes and to ensure that wrong persons do not suffer through being implicated falsely in cases. This alone will bring us closer to achieving justice.

 

There must also be an immediate end to the sentencing and execution of minors, and death sentences pronounced against persons who were below 18 at the time of the offence should be forthwith commuted.

 

Pakistan must take the path of conforming its practices to international human rights norms. So far it has only challenged these at all forums.

 

Asma Jahangir

Chairperson