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Pakistan judges pressured to apply blasphemy law: UN

Pakistani judges are being pressured to apply a controversial blasphemy law [text; JURIST news archive], UN Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers [official website] Gabriela Knaul [official profile] reported [OHCHR report] on Tuesday. In her initial observations of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, she expressed concern that judges are "coerced" to rule against the accused without sufficient evidence and fair trials. Moreover, lawyers representing the accused are reportedly compelled to provide inadequate representation and women are one of the targets of the misused law. Pakistani Christians fear that the law will negatively affect their security. According to Knaul, there are additional inadequacies within the judicial system of Pakistan that endanger the courts' ability to provide fair trials. Judges have been threatened and attacked, hindering them from carrying out their duties. Additionally, there is little diversity among the judges with only two female judges sitting in the High Courts. Another inadequacy was the back-log of cases at all levels of the court system interfering with courts' obligation to ensure justice and deteriorating the public confidence in the judicial system.

The blasphemy laws were introduced in 1986 as a way of protecting Muslim beliefs from insults. In response to repeated calls for repeal, Pakistani Federal Minister for Minority Affairs Shahbaz Bhatti has said the laws may be amended to prevent misuse, but they will not be repealed. Advocacy groups such as Human Rights Watch [JURIST report], as well as Lahore High Court advocate Saroop Ijaz [JURIST op-ed] have called for the laws to be repealed.

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