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UN body calls on Pak to unequivocally condemn incitement to violence against minorities

Raising concerns over threats to journalists and human rights defenders, especially women, in Pakistan, a top UN body has called on the country’s leadership to unequivocally condemn incitement to violence against religious minorities and encourage respect for diversity of opinion.

Rupert Colville, Spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, said in Geneva on Tuesday that the UN’s human rights body has followed with “increasing concern” numerous instances of incitement to violence – online and offline – against journalists and human rights defenders in Pakistan, in particular against women and minorities.

“Especially worrying are accusations of blasphemy – which can put accused individuals at imminent risk of violence,” he said in a statement.

The UN human rights body calls on the Pakistani leadership to unequivocally condemn incitement to violence against religious minorities and “what appears to be an increase in the use of blasphemy laws for personal or political score-settling. We call on them to encourage respect for diversity of opinion.”

The statement said that last year, at least four journalists and bloggers were killed in connection with their reporting. Among them was Arooj Iqbal, a woman who was shot dead in Lahore as she sought to launch her own local newspaper. This month, journalist Shaheena Shaheen was shot dead by unidentified men in Balochistan’s Kech district.

Colville said that the office of the High Commissioner has raised concerns directly with the Pakistan government and “we have urged immediate, concrete steps to ensure the protection of journalists and human rights defenders who have been subjected to threats.

“We also stress the need for prompt, effective, thorough and impartial investigations with a view to ensuring accountability in cases of violence and killings,” he said, adding that victims and their families have the right to justice, truth and reparations.

The UN agency encouraged the Pakistan government to address impediments to the active protection of the right to freedom of expression, including by carrying out legal reforms such as those recommended by the UN Human Rights Committee and other international human rights mechanisms.

Colville noted that Pakistani women journalists last month publicly warned of what they described as a “coordinated campaign” of social media attacks against those who have been critical of government policies.

“In the vast majority of such cases, those responsible have not been investigated, prosecuted and held to account,” it said.