Amsterdam [Netherlands], April 07 (ANI): Asserting that Pakistan's blasphemy laws lead to "grave miscarriages of justice", a European think tank asked Pakistani authorities to urgently reform the blasphemy laws by repealing the existent provisions and drafting new legislation.
In a study paper titled 'Guilty until proven innocent: The sacrilegious nature of blasphemy laws Pakistan', the European Foundation For South Asian Studies (EFSAS) said that the "draconian" blasphemy laws of Pakistan prove how the democratic set-up of the country remains an "elaborate facade for the ongoing persecution of vulnerable individuals and the reign of the violent extremist idea".
The think tank highlighted the example of death sentence delivered in late December to Pakistani professor Junaid Hafeez on "unsound" allegations of blasphemy.
EFSAS believes that the 1986 amendments of the Pakistan Penal Code under Zia-ul-Haque's rule were done with the "covert and ulterior purpose" to protect only one religion, Sunni Islam. The biggest proportion of Muslims charged with blasphemy offences still belong to the Shia community, which is considered one of the most persecuted minorities in Pakistan.
After the 1986 amendment, the accusations of blasphemy offences have increased exponentially. According to the Pakistani advocacy group Centre for Social Justice, between 1987 and 2017, an estimated number of 1,549 people have been charged under the draconian blasphemy laws; for comparison, before 1986, only 14 cases have been reported.
More than 70 cases of extrajudicial killings by vigilantes of those accused of blasphemy have taken place since the 1980s till the present day, the think tank stated.
Pakistan's blasphemy laws have been criticised by human rights groups who say they are often used maliciously and to persecute religious minorities in the Muslim majority country.
The paper urged that Pakistani officials should design and install comprehensive and efficient procedural and institutional safeguarding mechanisms at the investigative, prosecutorial and judicial stages in order to preclude any form of abuse and ensure the fair trial of those accused.
"Moreover, the state should take urgent steps in repealing the death penalty and commute all death sentences that have already been imposed. Criminal justice professionals should receive extensive training on identifying individuals with mental health issues and refer them to special assessment and treatment, recognising their needs and diverting them away from the criminal justice system," the paper stated.(ANI)