Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan on Tuesday declared that Islamabad, which the U.S. placed on a special watch list for “severe violations of religious freedom” this year, would spearhead an international campaign against the defamation of religion and make using freedom of speech as a pretext to commit blasphemy a crime.
After reportedly claiming that the European Union has admitted that no one can use freedom of expression as a pretext for blasphemy, PM Khan said: “Pakistan will spearhead a campaign for an international declaration against the defamation of religions. I have appointed Ahmer Bilal Sufi, a law expert, to reach out to various countries and convince them to sign the declaration.”
The campaign “would prevent people using freedom of speech as a cover for hurting the religious sentiments of Muslims around the world. Pakistan will spearhead the signing of this convention and make using freedom of speech to commit blasphemy a crime,” he added, according to Hamari Web News.
Dunya News adds:
The Prime Minister regretted that some elements in the West and Europe are indulging in blasphemous acts time and again on the pretext freedom of expression provoking the Muslim Ummah across the globe. He said when a chain of reaction comes in the Muslim world; the same Western and European nations dub the Muslims as terrorists and extremists through their propaganda machines.
The PM’s declaration, made at the opening of the two-day international Rehmatul-il-Alameen Conference at Islamabad’s Jinnah Convention Center, came nearly a year after the U.S. State Department placed Pakistan on a special watch list for religious freedom violators.
Pakistan’s Dawn newspaper reports that the conference is primarily focused on discussing the “finality of Prophethood and responsibilities of Muslims in light of the teachings of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him)”.
The state-run Pakistan Radio adds:
It is the 43rd conference aimed at promoting religious harmony, tolerance, brotherhood and equality, respect for humanity, non-violence, unity, reconciliation and culture of dialogue. Islamic scholars, from Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Iraq, Egypt, Afghanistan, Syria, Morocco, and the United Kingdom are participating in the event. Ulema are shedding light on various aspects of the life and teachings of the Holy Prophet (PBUH).
This month, Khan reportedly said that his administration wishes to present an image of peaceful Islam before the world.
“He had added that it was the responsibility of the state to present the true teachings of the Prophet to the next generation,” Dawn notes. “PM Khan had also said that research on the life of the Prophet would be promoted under the government’s supervision.”
According to the U.S. State Department and human rights groups, Pakistan uses its controversial blasphemy laws to target Christians and other religious minorities disproportionally.
The laws carry a punishment that ranges from life in prison to the death sentence depending on the charge.
In late October, Pakistan’s supreme court overturned a 2010 death penalty conviction imposed on a Christian mother of five, Asia Bibi, for allegedly defiling the Prophet Muhammad.
Although Pakistan’s Supreme Court ordered Bibi’s release after she served about eight years in prison, Islamabad is preventing Bibi from leaving the country while the top court reviews petitions filed against the acquittal verdict.
Pakistan’s Supreme Court is the country’s court of last resort, implying no further appeals should occur following its rulings.
Nevertheless, Islamabad has also agreed not to block a petition to add Bibi to a no-fly list made by the anti-blasphemy Islamist Tehreek-e-Labaik Pakistan (TLP) party that orchestrated the riots that erupted after the court cleared Bibi on October 31.
The agreement is part of a deal to stop the protest struck between the Khan administration and TLP
TLP has threatened to kill Bibi, her lawyer, and judges who cleared her.
Although Khan defended Pakistan’s blasphemy laws when campaigning this summer, the PM has repeatedly voiced his support for the Supreme Court’s acquittal verdict under pressure from the international community.