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Pakistan: Blasphemy Laws

Volume 706: debated on Thursday 22 January 2009

Questions

Asked by

To ask Her Majesty's Government what steps they are taking to encourage the authorities in Pakistan to provide protection for lawyers and others facing death threats or intimidation for defending individuals accused of breaching the blasphemy laws. [HL156]

We are concerned about the reports of threats or intimidation faced by lawyers who defend those charged under blasphemy legislation. We fund a range of programme and project work that aims to enhance civil society's capacity to act as advocates and promote human rights in Pakistan. Through the EU, we are working on a number of initiatives to ensure protection for human rights defenders, including lawyers. We are also committed to supporting the Government of Pakistan in building a prosperous and stable society and in applying the rule of law for the benefit of all.

Asked by

To ask Her Majesty's Government what steps they are taking to encourage the authorities in Pakistan to provide protection for prisoners accused under the blasphemy laws who are at risk of attack in prison. [HL175]

We have not directly raised the protection of prisoners accused under blasphemy legislation with the Government of Pakistan. However, our close working relationship with Pakistan includes co-operation on judicial issues and sharing expertise on good practice. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the Ministry of Justice are in the process of hosting a visit to the UK by senior Pakistani government officials. While the primary focus of the visit will be on prisoner transfer matters, the visit will also share UK training practice with prison authorities in Pakistan. Such exchanges are an opportunity to improve prison standards for all prisoners in Pakistan in accordance with international human rights standards.

Officials in London and Islamabad regularly meet with representatives of civil society and human rights organisations to monitor the treatment of minorities and inform our policy more widely. For example, our high commission in Islamabad recently met the Bishop of Lahore's chaplain for prisoners.

We will continue to encourage Pakistan to fulfil commitments under the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). We have welcomed Pakistan's decision to ratify the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and to sign the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, as well as the Convention Against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. We look forward to early implementation of these instruments, which we believe should safeguard the rights of minorities in Pakistan.

Asked by

To ask Her Majesty's Government what discussions they have had with the Government of Pakistan about ensuring that the laws concerning evidence in blasphemy cases are comparable with international standards. [HL243]

To ask Her Majesty's Government what discussions they have had with the Government of Pakistan regarding ensuring fair trials in blasphemy cases. [HL244]

With our EU partners, we regularly raise our concerns over the situation of religious minorities in Pakistan including the application of the blasphemy laws and the need to reform or repeal discriminatory legislation. Officials in London and Islamabad regularly meet representatives of civil society and human rights organisations to monitor the treatment of minorities and inform our policy more widely. The UN Human Rights Council undertook a universal periodic review of Pakistan's human rights record in May. The UK participated in this dialogue and obtained a commitment from the Pakistani delegation that checks would be introduced to regulate investigations into allegations of blasphemy and apostasy.

Our high commission in Islamabad is also supporting programme and project work to enhance civil society's capacity to act as advocates for human rights, improve access to justice and promote human rights in Pakistan.