Long raises religious freedom issues

East Belfast MP Naomi Long has asked the Foreign Secretary to challenge the Pakistani Government to appeal the recent ruling of a court there to make blasphemy a capital offence.

Mrs Long, who has been a long-time advocate of global religious freedom, told William Hague during Foreign Office questions in the House of Commons today (Tuesday) that the move by the Federal Shariah Court was an unjust one.

Last month, the court ordered the Pakistani Government to implement the death penalty for those convicted of blasphemy. It is feared the Government will not challenge this ruling, leaving Christians and other religious minorities afraid that blasphemy cases will become a Shariah law. The Government has 60 days to appeal the decision, a deadline that is rapidly running out.

“If this ruling goes unchallenged by the Pakistani Government, it could impact severely on the human rights and freedom of Christians and other religious minorities, as justice will move away from the courts and into the hands of Sharia clerics,” said the Alliance MP.

“A climate of intolerance that could be created by this move could also unfortunately lead to increased incidents of public retribution and vigilantism. Blasphemy laws already violate the right to both freedom of religion and freedom from religion. Such unjust laws need to be treated with the upmost seriousness. I am pleased the Foreign Secretary confirmed he has raised the issue with the Pakistani Prime Minister and his National Security Advisor, and hope they take heed of the thoughts of the international community.”

During the debate, Mrs Long also called on the British Government to ensure that in the Geneva II Conference, an event that will search for a political solution to the conflict in Syria, the voices of Christians and other religious minorities are heard during the negotiations.

“I was told the British Government has urged Syrian opposition to form a broad-based coalition that includes Christians and other religious minorities, which I welcome. Freedom of religion and belief should be a central aspect of the ongoing peace process, be enshrined in the Syrian constitution and protected in practice.

“The World Council of Churches has already said the multi-ethnic, multi-religious and multi-confessional nature of Syrian society must be preserved. I share that view, as those countries which protect freedom of religion also fare better in the protection of other fundamental human rights.”

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