The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) recently voiced serious concerns on the recent surge of blasphemy cases registered against Shias. Even more alarming is that most of these complaints also included charges under the Anti-Terrorism Act, 1997, besides blasphemy accusations. It’s obvious that these are attempts to silence and persecute a minority by abusing the laws of the country. After blasphemy laws, anti-terrorism laws are the most widely used traps to settle personal, religious and political scores in Pakistan. The misuse of these laws, in a country already stricken with grave problems, may prove to be extremely disastrous for national security and public welfare.

The current wave of registering FIRs against Shia Muslims for simply practicing their religion, and that too under anti-terrorist laws, is an unspeakable violation of the rights guaranteed to every citizen by the Constitution of Pakistan. It also simply beats the purpose of the Anti-Terrorism Act, 1997, which was enacted to deal exclusively with offences of terrorism. Most importantly, section 6 of the said act explicitly excludes the application of the law on religious rallies and peaceful protests.

Although there are ambiguities in the precise definition of terrorism, the Supreme Court of Pakistan has elucidated upon the minimum requirements of invoking anti-terrorism laws in several rulings. In the SC judgement of the case of Ghulam Hussain vs the State, it was highlighted that the anti-terrorism law is vague and full of ambiguities, and that it is often misused to either further one’s religious, sectarian, ideological or political goals, or to settle personal enmities. The honorable court also made it very clear that personal enmity as a result of contempt for a person’s religion does not fall under terrorism.

The current wave of booking the members of an already persecuted community under the anti-terrorism laws defies human rights and amounts to a “crime against humanity” according to Article 7 (1) (a) of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (UN). What could be more appalling than the absurdity of the FIR recently registered against three-year-old Fazal Abbas from Kamoke, Punjab? It is quite clear that the application of anti-terrorism laws on members of the Shia community is motivated by nothing but hate and bias against their religious identity.

The freedom of religion, expression and speech are fundamental human rights and are protected by both the Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan and international law. Pakistan is a signatory to both the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC). Arbitrary registration of cases against members of a community because of their religious beliefs, not to mention cases against children from that community, are clear and grave breaches of these international laws. We cannot expect these to go unnoticed. Indeed, turning a blind eye to violence, oppression, discrimination, hatred and bias against minorities is tarnishing the state’s image internationally, and can even lead to a further worsening of our economic crisis by re-agitating matters with the FATF.

It is high time for the state to get its priorities right and stand up for the rights of religious and ethnic minorities. There isn’t a shortage of historical and contemporary examples of civil wars and other crises breaking out among societies because of state partisanship. We must learn from these examples, lest the world learns from ours.