Pakistan Laws are Weapons in the Hands of Islamic Radicals, Says Rights Advocate

WASHINGTON – Islamic radicals abuse and use Pakistan’s laws as weapons against minorities to murder, rape and place non-Muslim students at a disadvantage in school, reported the chairman of the All Pakistan Minority Alliance (APMA).

Shahbaz Bhatti, a long-time religious freedom and human rights advocate, said that blasphemy and Hadu’d laws are being manipulated to attack and abuse non-Muslim citizens many times with impunity.

“Blasphemy is a weapon in the hands of Islamic radicals to persecute and victimize non-Muslims citizens,” said Bhatti during a small group meeting on Thursday. “Anyone can register a case of blasphemy without any proof, evidence, and without any procedures for investigation.”

The law states that anyone who desecrates the prophet of Islam or the holy book of the Muslim – either by action, word, body language, or behavior – should be imprisoned or awarded the death penalty.

Bhatti – who is also the founder of the largest Christian organization in Pakistan, the Christian Liberation Front of Pakistan (CLF) – shared cases of Christian prisoners killed by the Pakistani police who used the blasphemy law as an excuse for the murder.

“So our prisoners are not even safe with police who are guarding them,” said Bhatti. “So the code doesn’t give us protection. In jail these prisoners don’t have protection; so this law is so open-ended and weak, anyone could be accused.”

Pakistan is an Islamic country mainly dominated by the Sunni branch of Islam followed by Shia Islam which is affiliated with Iran. Religious minorities in Pakistan compose over five percent of the population, according to non-government estimates. However, officially the government says only three percent of Pakistani are non-Muslims.

Bhatti also highlighted sexual abuse against religious minority women under the cover of Hadu’d laws – which does not distinguish rape from adultery and gives the same punishment in both cases. Moreover, the case is trialed in Islamic Shari’a courts which are allowed to give punishments to non-Muslims but non-Muslim lawyers are not to appear in the court or be a presiding officer. Non-Muslims are also not considered equal witnesses to Muslims in Shari’a courts.

Another law, called the Marriage Act, is also used as a weapon by Islamic radicals who kidnap non-Muslim women and declare they have converted to Islam. The law states that if a woman accepts Islam, then her previous marriage is considered automatically annulled.

“There are many cases where the Christian and minority young women are kidnapped, tortured, raped, and eventually forcibly converted to Islam,” said the APMA chairman. “Some of the radical clerics and imams in the mosques and madrasas preach that if you rape non-Muslim minority women then you will get paradise and virgins in heaven. So they take advantage of this and as much as they can, they rape the girls.

“They have this wrong philosophy that they will get as much virgins in heaven. So this is not teaching of all Muslims but teaching of radical imams who preach like that.”

Lastly, Bhatti explained about the discrimination against non-Muslims in Pakistani schools. Non-Muslims in Pakistan have compulsory Islamic education but no option to study their own faiths. Moreover, Muslim students are given 20-marks extra if they recite the holy Koran. The 20-mark academic difference places non-Muslims at a significant disadvantage when they apply for admissions to higher education or to jobs.

The APMA chairman – who has been imprisoned, tortured, and faced three assassination attempts from Islamic radicals – emphasized that he does not want to simply criticize Pakistan but hopes that through acknowledgement of problems the country can improve.

“I think that not every Muslim is a radical, they are progressive and people who believe in harmony,” he said. “But the problem that we are facing is these extremist radical organizations hijack all these progressive people and terrorize them.”

However, Bhatti concluded by saying he believes God is “bigger than any radical.”

The All Pakistan Minorities Alliance is a countrywide organization of all religious minorities in Pakistan who have joined forces to create a platform for non-Muslim citizens of Pakistan. APMA aims to promote religious tolerance, interfaith harmony, human equality, and social justice through peaceful struggle. The group offers free legal aid, a victim hotline, women development programs, student counseling and training services, and emergency relief among other services.