Pakistan’s Federal Minister of Religious Affairs and Interfaith Harmony says the country is under “no pressure” to scrap its controversial blasphemy laws and that religious minorities enjoy equal rights.
“The law cannot be revoked,” Sardar Muhammad Yousuf said at a Pakistan-American Press Association dinner. “It’s there to stay, as it has a noble aim, to protect beliefs and religious personalities of all faiths, not just Islam.”
Pakistan has the most stringent blasphemy laws in the world, which have been used disproportionately against religious minorities – Pakistani Christians make up only 1.5 per cent of the total population, but over a quarter (187) of the 702 blasphemy cases registered between 1990 and 2014 were against Christians.
Yousuf said the blasphemy laws were “misunderstood”, as they were created for a “noble aim”, though he acknowledged they had been misused and that procedural “loopholes” had led to the filing of false charges.
“Those loopholes are being plugged,” he promised. “Now a SP-level [superintendent of police] officer must probe a complaint before a case is registered. Those who misuse these blasphemy laws are proceeded against.”
“Those who wanted to make Pakistan a secular state were too weak to bring any real pressure,” he added. “Pakistan can never be a secular state.”
Yousuf, who chairs the Minority Rights’ Commission of Pakistan, has been criticised for failing to establish such a group within the parliament. He has frequently denied that Pakistan violates the rights of minorities, but the country’s Constitution clearly divides society between Muslims and non-Muslims.
He also said that its Constitution ensures that no law could be made against the Quran and Sunnah, and that Pakistani society is different from the rest of the world as it has a state religion.
Six US Senators recently wrote to the US Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, asking for Pakistan to be designated a “country of particular concern” for violating religious freedom.