Human Rights Group Condemns Violent, State-Supported Protests in Pakistan
Clinton Should Raise Issue in Meeting Today with Pakistani Foreign Minister
Washington, D.C. – In response to today’s deadly, state-endorsed protests in Pakistan, Human Rights First urges the Pakistani government to publicly counter claims that a recently released inflammatory anti-Muslim video reflects official U.S. policy. The Pakistani government must also affirm clearly that violence in response to speech is never acceptable. Today’s protests that have resulted in at least one death were sanctioned by the Pakistani government, which set aside today as an official day for protests. “The citizens of Pakistan have every right to exercise their right to freedom of expression and assembly. But in all circumstances, feeling offended never justifies the self-proclaimed right to express violent behavior and cause bloodshed. The Pakistani government should be preventing violence, not setting the stage for it,” said Human Rights First’s Tad Stahnke. “There is no justification for violence.” Secretary Clinton holds today a bilateral meeting with Pakistani Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar. She should call for immediate clarification from the Pakistani government and urge him to address that message unambiguously in Urdu to the Pakistani public. According to Human Rights First, governments in nations where anti-American protests sparked by the film have taken place in recent days have the primary responsibility to push back against the political exploitation of the genuine offense caused by the film. The U.S. government should support governments that meet this challenge and urge their allies around the world to do the same. In addition, government officials, religious leaders and other public figures have a responsibility not to stoke a misguided sense of public grievance that all too often results in violence. “The U.S. government should reiterate its opposition to the idea that religions can be defamed. It should send out that message next week to world leaders gathered at the United Nations General Assembly,” concluded Stahnke. Governments should resist calls to adopt blasphemy or other laws designed to protect religion from defamatory speech. These laws are too easily abused by extremists to persecute religious minorities and to impose ever more restrictive interpretations of religion on the society as a whole. Pakistani Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf called for a global ban on insulting the Prophet. In today’s world, where any individual with an Internet connection can post offensive material at the touch of a button such a ban would be unenforceable. Fueling the idea that self-appointed groups who characterize themselves as defenders of one faith or another have the right not be offended is misguided. Human Rights First urges the U.S. government to continue its efforts to oppose efforts to create a global anti-blasphemy standard and to step up its efforts to push back against blasphemy laws at the national level.