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Minority Rights Group International

Published Date: May 16, 2013

Positive attitude towards improving religious freedoms vital for Pakistan?s new government, says international rights organisation

As
Muhammad Nawaz Sharif and his Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) begin to form a
new government after 11 May general elections, Minority Rights Group
International (MRG) urges them to seize this unique opportunity to bring about
positive change for the country’s religious minorities.

‘We
welcome Mr Sharif’s early signals that he is looking for stability and peace
between diverse communities in Pakistan,’ says Shobha Das, MRG’s Head of Programmes.

‘The
time is now ripe to end discrimination against religious minorities, and repeal
the blasphemy law, which is open to abuse and applied disproportionately
against minority communities,’ she added.

Although
religious minorities constitute less than 5% of the population, around 50% of
blasphemy cases brought to court under the law in Pakistan are against them.
The law requires no proof of intent and has no penalty for false allegation,
and is easily manipulated or abused, leaving many minority members vulnerable.

In
light of the recent large-scale attacks on members of the Shi’a community
across the country, MRG also called on the new government to urgently provide
them physical security, and adopt necessary reforms at judicial and policy
level to enable justice for Shi’a and all Pakistani citizens.

‘Regardless
of some reservations on the election results, it is heartening that the
democratic process has worked. Elections were held successfully, the people
voted, and they voted for change,” says Moazzam S. Bhatti, Advocacy Outreach
Advisor, of Pakistani organisation Sustainable Development Policy Institute
(SDPI).

‘The
new government can make real attempts to win back the confidence of minority
communities. We hope they will start by having a credible and effective process
to select candidates on the reserved minority seats," he added.

SDPI
believes that this is the right time for Sharif’s government to address
on-going grievances of the minority communities such as Hindus, Sikhs and
Baha’is, who still do not have a formal system of personal laws, which cover
matters pertaining to a person and their family.

‘The
obstacles which have blocked the passage of such laws should be negotiated
swiftly through dialogue and discussion. Other political parties should join
hands with the government to have these necessary laws passed,’ Bhatti
suggested.

The
outgoing parliament during its five-year tenure was unable to pass a marriage
registration law for Hindus, an absence of which has resulted in domestic, social
and psychological problems for the Hindu community, particularly women.