US condemns use of blasphemy laws on political opponents

The decision by the present administration to apply the blasphemy legislation against former prime minister Imran Khan and his colleagues has been the subject of two public statements from the United States in the previous two days.

The US Commission on International Religious Freedom brought up the matter on Monday in its annual report, claiming that the Shahbaz Sharif-led administration, which took office in 2022, is using the blasphemy law as a tool to target Imran Khan and his supporters.

The research emphasized that episodes of blasphemy, as well as the history of mob violence that has often accompanied such charges, constitute a serious danger to religious freedom in Pakistan.

The US Commission on International Religious Freedom is a nonpartisan commission with a congressional mandate that tracks religious persecution across the globe and recommends solutions to stop it. Although it doesn’t always do so, the US administration frequently puts these suggestions into practice.

Tuesday’s news briefing saw a second mention of the issue when a journalist questioned US State Department spokesperson Vedanta Patel about whether the US would alert the Pakistani government to its concerns regarding the abuse of blasphemy laws.

The journalist brought up the fact that Imran Khan was the victim of a murderous attack after being accused of blasphemy.

“We vehemently oppose laws that restrict a person’s ability, regardless of his or her national identity, to choose a faith, practice that faith, change that religion, not keep that religion, or disclose their religious beliefs and practices to others,” Patel added.

The country’s blasphemy statute was allegedly broken by the former prime minister and 150 others in April 2022 as a result of their participation in anti-government protests in Makkah.

The accusations were made following some unruly behavior by some Pakistani pilgrims against Shahbaz Sharif and his party when they were on an official visit to Saudi Arabia.

In other videos posted to social media, people can be heard yelling “traitor” and “chor” while Shehbaz Sharif and his team do the Umrah.

Human rights advocates in Pakistan regard allegations of blasphemy as motivated by political vengeance and claim the action is intended to stop Imran Khan from leading anti-government demonstrations.

A government or political party cannot afford to use blasphemy accusations as a weapon against its opponents, according to the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP), which also recommended the prompt dismissal of the proceedings brought against the PTI leadership.

The US Commission on International Religious Freedom’s 2023 report demands that Pakistan remove its anti-blasphemy legislation and enact changes that would make the crime of blasphemy a bailable charge up to that time and require the accusers to present proof.