Members of the European Parliament (EP) have called on the EU to “put the people of the world before our financial and political interests”, in a report about religious freedom.
The Annual Report on Freedom of Religion or Belief 2017, presented by the EP Intergroup on Freedom of Religion or Belief (FoRB) and Religious Tolerance, notes a growing understanding of the importance of freedom of religion or belief around the world.
“We cannot accept that people are being killed, tortured, or oppressed, because of their religious convictions or beliefs,” said Adina Portaru, Legal Counsel for ADF International at the presentation of the report at the European Parliament on Wednesday (5 September).
The report calls for the position of the Special Envoy for FoRB outside the EU, Jan Figeľ, to be strengthened, saying he should play a more visible and central role in the EU’s external relations.
It focusses on 34 countries, in 19 of which people face significant restrictions in living in accordance with their faith. It urges the EU, for example, to “openly condemn” so-called “anti-conversion laws” in seven of India’s states and “encourage central government to push for their repeal”.
Although ostensibly aimed at preventing “forced conversions”, in reality such laws are often used to prevent all conversions – whether by force or free choice – and especially conversions to minority religions such as Christianity. Accusations of forced conversions also regularly lead to attacks.
The report also calls on the EU to work with Pakistan to repeal its blasphemy laws. “At least 19 people are on death row as a result of sentences passed under Section 295c166 of the penal code and many more are serving prison sentences”, the report notes. “A reported 71 people have been killed by mobs due to blasphemy accusations since 1990.”
Pakistan’s blasphemy laws caught the world’s attention with the conviction on blasphemy charges of Aasiya Noreen, a Christian woman, in 2009. Noreen (better known as ‘Asia Bibi’) faces the death penalty and remains in prison, waiting for her appeal to be heard. In April Pakistan’s chief justice said he would “soon” decide her fate.
The parliamentary Intergroup in its report suggested the EU should “include FoRB as a priority in the next EU Pakistan Strategic engagement plan”. The situation for Pakistan’s minorities remained problematic, it said, and “the EU should ensure that protecting the rights of the citizens of Pakistan, especially minorities, is a priority for both parties”.
During a visit in December 2017, Special Envoy Figeľ told Pakistani officials that the renewal of its export privileges to Europe would depend on the release of Noreen. In February, however, the EU renewed its trading agreement with Pakistan.