The blasphemy laws have come to haunt the majority community in Pakistan with rival sects of Islam increasingly using Sections 295-B and C of the Pakistan Penal Code against each other.

While minority groups continue to face action under this legacy of the Zia-ul-Haq regime, the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) in its report released on Monday cites numerous cases of Muslims being booked under the blasphemy laws.

In fact, a majority of the 41 complaints registered by the police in 2009 involved Muslims. According to HRCP secretary-general I. A. Rehman, the blasphemy laws had come full circle as rival sects have begun to use these provisions to settle scores with each other. While this has become an interesting statistic for civil rights groups to use in their ongoing fight for the repeal of the blasphemy laws, the HRCP report states that 2009 saw an increase in violent attacks on minorities as the government failed to take effective preventive measures. “As the Pakistan Army and para-military forces conducted military operations against the Taliban networks in Swat andother tribal areas including South Waziristan, the militants struck with vengeance in other parts of the country at non-Muslim minorities as well as the Muslim minority Shia sect.''

All minority groups faced ultimatums to convert to Islam with theCommission coming across instances of the Taliban threatening Hindus to either pay Jazia (a medieval period tax on minorities) or accept Islam to save themselves from abduction and murder. Referring to a specific incident in the Kohat district of the North-West Frontier Province (NWFP), Mr. Rehman said non-state actors became so powerful that they managed to collect Jazia and still some Hindu families had to flee the area.

Referring to another incident which took place in Battagram in the Hazara district of the NWFP, Mr. Rehman said the term Jazia was heard in these parts for the first time since the days of Mughal ruler Aurangzeb. Home to 15 Hindu families — living there for generations — the elder of the community was asked to cough up Rs. 6 million by militants and the Taliban.

And, the Commission fears that there could be more such cases which go unreported; particularly from the “no-go areas'' in the tribal belt that is caught in the crossfire between extremist groups and security forces in a “xenophobic atmosphere created and promoted by conservative clerics and a section of the media''.

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