Pakistanis Shout for Secularism, Minority
Rights and End to Islamization
People of Islamabad got together in front of the Parliament House on Dec 30, 2010 in order to protest against a highly discriminatory Blasphemy Laws of the country, parallel judicial structures especially the Shariat Court especially Shariat Court’s recent Judgment against the Women’s Protection Act (WPA) that brought little relief to women who were being booked under notorious Hudood Laws (throughly anti-women & religious minorities laws promulgated by the military dictator Zia-ul-Haq in 1979 as a part of his Islamization drive). The citizens were gathered under Insani Haqooq Ittehaad (Human Rights Alliance) an alliance of more than 30 civil society organizations and many human rights activists, media personalities, academicians, professional people, women entrepreneurs etc.
According to the Judgment of the Federal Shariat Court, not only the key provisions of the WPA have been taken back to Hudood, but also Shariat Court’s jurisdiction is extended to cover what is the constitutional mandate of Supreme Court of Pakistan. The protesters were concerned not only for the diminishing space of country’s apex Court – Supreme Court of Pakistan – in the wake of the Judgment given by Federal Shariat Court (FSC) a week ago, but also for the existence of FSC per se. They revived their two decades old demand of abolishing the FSC altogether and ensure a uniform judicial system in the country.
Those who participated the protest, were particularly raising voice for the release of Aasiya Bibi, a Christian woman who has recently been sentenced to death under Blasphemy Laws, which many citizens are convinced are badly drafted and are used as an oppressive tool against not only religious minorities but powerless and marginalized sections of the society. They, however, called upon the Parliament to go for a repeal of Blasphemy Law altogether or a massive amendment to make it toothless. They renewed their resolve to support all those political forces who at this juncture are striving for the change in status quo. They committed their support to the Bill for the Repeal of Blasphemy Laws moved in National Assembly by a woman Member (Ms. Bushra Gauhar) from Awami National Party and another Bill on the Amendment of Blasphemy Laws moved in National Assembly by the ruling party member Ms. Sherry Rehman. Appreciation was also extended to the work of the Parliamentary Sub-Committee on Minorities’ Rights Chaired by Ms. Nafisa Shah towards this common objective, as well as the attempt made by the Governor of Punjab for the release / Presidential pardon of Aasiya Bibi.They however, urged that all these political leaders should not bow down before the pressure of obscurantist forces within the parliament and in the political parties currently a part of ruling coalition.
The protesters, however, were very angry and raised their strong concerns over the highly objectionable, irresponsible and discouraging statements given by the Law Minister, Senator Babar Awan and the Labour & Manpower Minister Mr. Khursheed Shah. They demanded immediate retraction of these offensive statements against eh Blasphemy Laws Amendment / Repeal by these two cabinet members and urged the Prime Minister to take serious note if the government is serious in supporting an Amendment / Repeal in the Blasphemy Laws.
It is noteworthy that the protesters decided to carry on with the demonstration despite heavy rains that had engulfed the capital since last night. A couple of hundred protesters on a rainy day standing in front of the Parliament House and chanting slogans for a secular Pakistan, a day before the Shutter-down Strike Call by the religious parties, were eager to make a dissent statement before the world and show that Pakistan is not inhabited by religious extremists and obscurantists. “We are not ready to leave the field open for the Religious right to play. We are there and the world should see we are not going to knee down before any number of religious parties” said a student from Iqra University Islamabad.
Following is the text of a Press Statement that the IHI members and protesters issued at the end of the demonstration before peacefully dispersing from the venue.
Representatives of civil society, minorities and concerned citizens of Islamabad gathered today under the auspices of the Insani Haqooq Ittehaad – IHI (Human Rights Alliance) to denounce Federal Shariat Court’s the recent decision on Women’s Protection Act, demand the abolishing of Federal Shariat Court and parallel judicial systems i.e. Council of Islamic Ideology, Federal Shariat Court, jirgas, panchayets, and repeal of all laws which are discriminatory to women and minorities included Blasphemy laws and Hudood laws. They also called for the immediate dismissal of Maulana Shirani as the Chair of the Council of Islamic Ideology (CII).
The participants of the rally were a diverse mix of civil society organizations, women’s rights groups, human rights activists, political workers, students’ organizations and minority communities from Islamabad. They raised slogans for a secular and democratic Pakistan. They insisted that the government must work towards the realization of the democratic, secular, and peaceful vision of Quaid-e-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah’s Pakistan, a vision he clearly articulated in his speech on 11th August 1947 when he stated that religion would have no role to play in the business of the state.
The protesters chanted slogans and demanded repeal of laws that discriminate against women such as Hudood Laws and Qisas and Diyat Law. They also reminded the government that the State has a due diligence duty to ensure protection for women, minorities and other vulnerable sections of the society and should not bow down to political pressures and blackmailing by religious parties.
The demonstration was part of countrywide campaign of the human rights organizations and activist against the Federal Shariat Court decision, in support of its abolishing and repeal of Blasphemy laws. The protesters also demanded that the government should stand up to the retrogressive religious forces in the country and not capitulate to their blackmail. They called upon the government to ensure the rights of religious minorities by immediately releasing Aasiya Bibi and repealing the Blasphemy laws.
This protest was the beginning of a national campaign that civil society organizations are starting in all parts of Pakistan from today. Similar protests are planned in all provinces. A national conference and other follow-ups are also planned to demonstrate that the progressive elements of Pakistani society will not bow down to the attacks by the religious right against women and minorities.