Lahore: A leading rights body in Pakistan today said it was alarmed over a number of disturbing developments, including the assault on a senior journalist and attacks on temples, and described such incidents as a “new wave of intolerance” in the country.
Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) has grave concerns over a number of recent incidents, including the attack on Raza Rumi in Lahore, a spate of assaults at Hindu temples in Sindh province, the most recent one being in Hyderabad, and the death sentence for Sawan Masih in a blasphemy case, said in a statement.
“HRCP believes that we are witnessing a new wave of intolerance and these instances stem from the same motivation,” it said.
While the court’s verdict against Sawan is another matter, the assault on the Christian-dominated Joseph Colony in Lahore in March 2013 and torching of over 100 houses in Sawan’s neighbourhood following the charge of blasphemy is part of the same wave.
It is a matter of concern that while Sawan has been sentenced to death a year after the incident, cases against those involved in the arson and looting are not progressing, the HRCP said.
“HRCP implores the government not to be a mere spectator as this new phase of intolerance gets under way. The targeted attack on Rumi sends a message to all journalists who dare to speak their mind.
“If well known journalists can be targeted in the heart of Lahore in such a brazen manner, the challenges for media workers and indeed for the freedom of expression elsewhere in the country are not too difficult to imagine,” it said.
“We are very concerned at the spread of intolerance and temples being torched and attacked in areas where citizens of all faiths had long lived in harmony. Preventing attacks on Hindu temples in the short term should not be too difficult.”
The HRCP has urged political and religious leaders to reconsider their past practice of calling for reform of the blasphemy law only following widely reported instances of the law being abused and not persisting with that demand.
The government should also show some initiative by facilitating the discourse highlighting the immediate need for reforming the blasphemy law.
“The problem is not confined to any one part of the country and the worrying trend can only be reversed if the federal and all provincial governments and civil society make urgent and sincere collective efforts,” the HRCP said.
No group has claimed responsibility for the attack on Rumi. A driver was killed and a guard suffered injuries when two motorcyclists opened fire on Rumi’s car last Friday.
The HRCP was established in 1987 as an independent, non-profit organisation.