700 Christian girls forcefully married to Muslims each year

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The European Parliament Intergroup on Freedom of Religion or Belief and Religious Tolerance has released its annual report for 2015 and showed serious concerns over the minorities’ situation in Pakistan, especially the issues pertaining to the country’s blasphemy laws.

The intergroup comprises like-minded members of the European Parliament dedicated to ensuring that the EU, in its external actions, promotes and protects the right to freedom of religion or belief. In December 2014, the European Parliament Conference of Presidents formally established the intergroup, which is non-partisan, being composed of MEPs from almost all political groups in the European Parliament.

The intergroup, in its report titled “The State of Freedom of Religion or Belief in the World”, while referring the blasphemy laws in Pakistan, has claimed that due to such laws, Ahmadis suffer 37 percent of accusations and Christians 14 percent, despite constituting only two percent of the population respectively.

Giving reference of the assassinated Punjab governor Salmaan Taseer and federal minister Shahbaz Bhatti for raising their voices against the blasphemy laws in Pakistan, especially in Asia Bibi case, the report expressed that although the Supreme Court of Pakistan in a positive development has expressed its concerns about widespread misuse of blasphemy laws and issued a detailed judgment warning against false blasphemy accusations and stating that in Islam a false accusation can be as serious as blasphemy itself, but unfortunately, criticising the reforms to blasphemy laws in public was still dangerous in any Pakistani society.

The report said that Pakistan has a population of 196 million, in which 95 percent are Muslim; 75 percent Sunni and 20 percent Shia, while the other five percent comprises of Hindus, Christians, Zoroastrians, Bahai, Sikhs, Buddhists and others, with a very small Jewish minority, and 0.5% listing no religious affiliation.

According to the intergroup report, during the 2014-2015, five individuals were sentenced to death on blasphemy charges and one to life in prison, bringing the total number of blasphemy prisoners in Pakistan to 38. The report further stated that terrorist groups like Taliban have continued to severely persecute religious minorities, especially the Christian community, considering it an agent of the west and in revenge of the western intervention such as US drone strikes in Pakistani areas. The report also gave the reference of blasts and firing in churches in Youhanabad and Iqbal Park on the eve of Easter celebrations.

The intergroup report further disclosed that around 700 Christian girls were abducted and forcibly married to Muslim men and converted to Islam each year in Pakistan while due to religious persecution, around 11,000 Pakistani Christian were asylum seekers in Thailand. The report stated that in the months of April and May 2016, it was also reported that as many as 18 Christian girls were kidnapped and forcefully converted in Punjab.

About the other minority groups, the report said that Hindus, Ahmadis and Shias were also facing and suffering grave non-governmental violence. As in May 2015, a Hindu parliamentarian claimed that 5,000 Hindus emigrate from Pakistan every year due to discriminatory treatment, forced conversions and fears for their safety. While in October 2015, a Lashkar-e-Jhangvi suicide bomber targeted a Shia shrine in Bolan, Balochistan, killing 11. As well as in November 2015, Sunnis attacked and burned down a factory in Jhelum following rumours an Ahmadi employee had desecrated the Quran. Further, numerous shops in Lahore display signs with statements like “Ahmadis are not allowed”.

It is pertinent to mention that in the annual report of the intergroup, highlighted discrimination with minorities was observed at large level in India as well, while Afghanistan, Libya, Somalia, Syria and Yemen were declared as failed states, as they remained failed in protecting religious minorities due to absence of the rule of law, strong internal political, social or economic pressures, violence, almost no legitimate authority to make collective decisions and inability to provide public services.

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