The European Parliament has adopted a resolution calling for a review of the GSP+ status granted to Pakistan in view of an “alarming” increase in the use of blasphemy accusations in the country as well as rising number of online and offline attacks on journalists and civil society organisations, it emerged on Friday.
The resolution also calls on the Government of Pakistan to “unequivocally condemn” incitement to violence and discrimination against religious minorities in the country, and expresses “deep concern” at the prevailing anti-French sentiment in Pakistan.The EU Parliament “calls on the Commission and the European External Action Service (EEAS) to immediately review Pakistan’s eligibility for GSP+ status in the light of current events and whether there is sufficient reason to initiate a procedure for the temporary withdrawal of this status and the benefits that come with it, and to report to the European Parliament on this matter as soon as possible”, according to the resolution. Member of European Parliament (MEP) Charlie Weimers of Sweden, who co-authored the resolution, in his speech during the parliament’s latest session cited various incidents of members of religious minorities killed or imprisoned in Pakistan over accusations of blasphemy.
“Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan, rather than defend his citizens’ human rights against false accusers, […] equated denial of the Holocaust and genocide to criticism of Islam’s Prophet (PBUH),” he said in his remarks. The lawmaker also tweeted: “Should Europe reward Pakistan’s mob justice targeting Christians and its Prime Minister relativising the Holocaust? My answer is no.”
Responding to the passage of the resolution, Human Rights Minister Shireen Mazari while apparently referring to Weimers said: “It is unfortunate that the co-sponsor of the EU’s anti-Pakistan resolution was a member of a party that the Swedish PM Stefan Lofven referred to as ‘a neo-fascist single-issue party’ with ‘Nazi and racist roots’.” She said the pertinent question now was “whether GSP Plus is getting muddied in Islamophobia?” “We have issues to resolve but there has been more movement now on our Human Rights International Convention commitments than in previous governments. The way forward is dialogue & negotiations, which we have been doing, not extreme public positionings. Unfortunate,” she wrote, tagging the EU ambassador to Pakistan in her tweet. The EU resolution expresses particular concern regarding the case of couple Shagufta Kausar and Shafqat Emmanuel, who were sentenced to death on blasphemy charges in 2014. These charges emanated from the alleged sending of text messages disrespectful of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) from a phone number registered to Kausar to the person accusing the couple of blasphemy. “The evidence on which the couple were convicted can be considered deeply flawed,” it states, noting that the couple had allegedly been in an argument with the accuser not long before the accusations were made. The couple remain in jail pending a court ruling on their appeal against their death sentence. The appeal was due to be heard in April 2020, six years after they were sentenced, but has been postponed multiple times, most recently on February 15, 2021, according to the resolution. It notes that there has been “an alarming increase” in accusations of blasphemy online and offline in Pakistan over the past year, with the highest number of accusations since 1987 taking place in 2020. Many of these allegations targeted human rights defenders, journalists, artists and the most marginalised segments. “Pakistan’s blasphemy laws are increasingly used for personal or political score‑settling in violation of the rights to freedom of religion and belief and of opinion and expression,” it states. According to the resolution, the situation in Pakistan “continued to deteriorate in 2020 as the government systematically enforced blasphemy laws and failed to protect religious minorities from abuses by non-state actors, with a sharp rise in targeted killings, blasphemy cases, forced conversions, and hate speech against religious minorities including Ahmadis, Shia Muslims, Hindus, Christians and Sikhs; whereas abduction, forced conversion to Islam, rape and forced marriage remained an imminent threat for religious minority women and children in 2020, particularly those from the Hindu and Christian faiths”. The text calls on the Pakistani government to “unequivocally condemn incitement to violence and discrimination against religious minorities in the country” and put in place “effective, procedural and institutional safeguards” to prevent the abuse of the blasphemy laws, while noting that it has been made a requirement that no police officer below the level of police superintendent may investigate charges before registering a case. It also expresses concern over “an increasing number of online and offline attacks on journalists and civil society organisations, in particular against women and the most marginalised in society”, noting that such attacks often include false accusations of blasphemy, which can lead to physical attacks, killings, arbitrary arrest and detention. It urges the Pakistani government to take “immediate steps” to ensure the safety of journalists, human rights defenders and faith-based organisations and to carry out prompt and effective investigations in order to uphold the rule of law and bring the perpetrators to justice. The resolution says Pakistan has benefited from trade preferences under the GSP+ programme since 2014, while the economic benefits from this unilateral trade agreement for the country are “considerable”. However, the GSP+ status “comes with the obligation to ratify and implement 27 international conventions including commitments to guarantee human rights and religious freedom”, it adds. “In its latest GSP+ assessment of Pakistan of 10 February 2020, the Commission expressed a variety of serious concerns on the human rights situation in the country, notably the lack of progress in limiting the scope and implementation of the death penalty,” the text says. However, the resolution welcomes the recent judgment of the Supreme Court of Pakistan to ban the execution of prisoners with mental health conditions. It calls upon the Pakistani authorities to commute the sentences of all individuals who are facing the death penalty to ensure that their right to a fair trial is respected. Apparently referring to the recent violent protests by the banned Tehreek-i-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP), the resolution says: “The repeated and deceptive attacks against the French authorities by radical Pakistani groups and recent statements by the Government of Pakistan on the grounds of blasphemy have escalated since the response of the French authorities to the terrorist attack against a French school teacher for defending freedom of expression.”
It says the EU Parliament considers the violent demonstrations against France as “unacceptable” and is deeply concerned by the anti-French sentiment in Pakistan, which has led French nationals and companies to have to leave the country temporarily.