Pakistan decries EU parliament’s move on blasphemy laws

ISLAMABAD (AP) — Pakistan on Friday decried a move by the European Parliament, which a day earlier adopted a resolution demanding Islamabad allow freedom for religious minorities and asked the EU to reconsider the South Asian country’s preferential trade status.

The European Parliament appealed on Islamabad to free a Christian couple — Shagufta Kausar and her husband Shafqat Emmanuel — who have been on death row since 2014. The two were convicted of insulting Islam’s Prophet Muhammad.

It also urged Pakistani authorities to repeal the country’s controversial blasphemy laws, provide Kausar and Emmanuel with needed medical care and “immediately and unconditionally” overrule their death sentence.

It also expressed concern at increasing online and other attacks on journalists and human rights activists and asked Pakistan to take steps to ensure their safety.

Under Pakistan’s blasphemy laws, anyone accused of insulting Islam can be sentenced to death if convicted. Just the mere accusation of blasphemy can cause riots and incite mobs to violence and killings.

The foreign ministry in Islamabad released a statement expressing the government’s disappointment at the European resolution, saying it “reflects a lack of understanding in the context of blasphemy laws and associated religious sensitivities in Pakistan — and in the wider Muslim world”.

However, it is unlikely that Islamabad will act on the charged issue. Radical Islamists parties have in recent years held violent rallies to stop the government from making any changes in the blasphemy laws.

Kausar and Emmanuel were arrested in 2013 on suspicion of sending a blasphemous text message to a local cleric in eastern Punjab province, an allegation they denied. The two were tried and sentenced to death in 2014. Since then, their appeals have been pending in the Lahore High Court.

According to domestic and international human rights groups, blasphemy allegations in Pakistan have often been used to intimidate religious minorities and to settle personal scores.

A Punjab governor was killed by his own guard in 2011 after he defended a Christian woman, Aasia Bibi, who was accused of blasphemy. She was acquitted after spending eight years on death row and left Pakistan for Canada to join her family after receiving threats.

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