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ICC Note:

The Punjab Provincial government in Pakistan has excluded Christians form a list of blasphemy cases set to be fast tracked in Pakistani court. Christians and other religious minorities are disproportionately accused of blasphemy in Pakistan and the law is often abused to settle personal scores or for finical gain. By only selecting 50 blasphemy cases against Muslims, Pakistan’s government has show a clear bias and is further persecuting Christians already falsely imprisoned.  

2/13/2015 Pakistan (Morning Star News) – Punjab Province has excluded Christians from a list of people accused without basis of blaspheming Islam who will have their cases expedited for acquittal, sources said.

Pointing to several Christians languishing in jail on trumped-up blasphemy charges, Christian rights and political activists say discrimination against religious minorities was behind the selection by the Punjab Prosecution Department. The department short-listed 50 cases of alleged blasphemers in Punjab Province that the government says have been victimized by complainants.

“We are not opposed to the government’s support to Muslims wrongly accused of blasphemy, but all citizens of the state should be treated equally and without any prejudice,” said Sajid Ishaq, chairman of the Pakistan Interfaith League (PIL) and central president of the Minorities Wing of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf, which rules Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province.

Ishaq, who is vying for a Senate seat reserved for minorities from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, said that the Punjab government also should have considered cases involving Christians such as Aasiya Bibi (commonly known as Asia Bibi), Sawan Masih and others because the government knew how these persons had fallen victim to persecution at the hands of Muslims.

“The Punjab government knows why Joseph Colony in Lahore was burned down and under which circumstances Sawan Masih was handed the death sentence,” Ishaq said. “It is also fully aware of how Christians have been subjected to imprisonment and injustice on fabricated blasphemy charges, yet it continues to ignore our people, making us believe that the government holds little value for Christian lives.”

Sources said the Punjab government last month formed a high-powered committee headed by Prosecution Department Secretary Rana Maqbool to discuss ways to fast-track blasphemy cases against Muslims. They discussed consulting representatives of all religious schools of thought in order to avoid repercussions following the release of suspected blasphemers.

Ishaq said his advocacy group would meet with the government committee to urge it to scrutinize Christians’ cases as well.

“We demand that the government also review cases of Christian blasphemy accused, so that our innocent people are not left to rot in jails for a crime they have not committed,” he said.

A Punjab Prosecution Department official told Morning Star News on condition of anonymity that the government decided to set up the committee after the recent murder of lawyer and human rights activist Rashid Rehman, who was representing a Muslim blasphemy accused in Multan.

“We know that most of the cases registered under blasphemy laws are fabricated, but unfortunately our police and justice system is weak and cannot withstand Islamists’ pressure,” he said. “Innocent people do end up in jails, and there have been several others who have fallen victim to the extremist mindset and were killed during or after their trials.”

The official said that, blasphemy being “a very sensitive subject,” the government feared a violent reaction if it were to examine cases involving non-Muslims.

“Consider these 50 cases as a litmus test, and hopefully if things work out smoothly, we might just be able to bail out more people suffering in jails,” he said. “As for now, there is nothing being considered for non-Muslims charged with blasphemy, as it may jeopardize the work being done for the other accused.”

The Prosecution Department has reportedly selected the 50 cases from a total of 262 in different courts of the province from 2010 to date. The suspects, all Muslims booked under four sections of Chapter XV of offences relating to religion of the Pakistan Penal Code, are languishing in jails and are not being convicted because of lack of evidence, poor evidence and non-availability of defense counsels.

According to sources privy to details of the meetings of the committee headed by Maqbool, the provincial government has decided to defend the Muslim suspects because they are unable to convince a lawyer to defend them in court due to societal pressures and threats.

They added that some of the accused might also be medically examined to determine their mental health.

The committee is also reportedly trying to get a favorable Fatwa (edict) from religious scholars of all schools of thought to avoid Islamist reaction.

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