Pakistani Christians again were left in a quandary by the ‘European Union Special Envoy on Human Rights outside the EU’ after having heir hopes raised and then dashed by a resolution that linked continued favoured tariff-free trade status, to Asia Bibi’s release and meeting the 27 UN human rights conditions originally set prior to acceptance on the scheme.
BPCA is embarrassed that we believed this report that appeared on Special Envoy Jan Figel’s official website (click here) and praised Europe for their efforts in tackling Pakistan’s poor human rights record (click here), which seem to be rather an engagement in real politick at the expense of human lives.
What actually transpired was a very ugly change-of-mind that led to automatic renewal of the Generalised System of Preferences (GSP+) status with Pakistan and a perplexing attempt to praise Pakistan for improvement towards better human rights with regards to the 27 conditions set by the EU (click here) . Sadly no evidence of how the European Union has assessed Pakistan’s progress was available to the BPCA to scrutinise, but as you can imagine we find it a ludicrous endorsement.
Though expressing disappointment in the European Commission’s decision to renew GPS+ Status, Jan Figel fell short of apologizing for the now defunct statement which was supposed to ring out as a clear message that human rights violations, especially those related to the blasphemy law in Pakistan would no longer be tolerated. In his article referred to above the EU was said to have remembered Asia Bibi, but clearly she has slipped their mind. The false-confidence raised not only leaves Pakistani religious minorities out in the cold but also means that those targeting them feel emboldened to continue the persecution of Christians. These actions could even cost Asia Bibi her life by promoting a sense of international impunity. Pakistani authorities must now realise they can exercise their sovereign right to impose an Islamic death sentence on an innocent woman without fear of any condemnation or sanction. This is a devastating blow to Christians around the world and especially those in Pakistan whose morale has already reached it’s lowest ebb after a spate of terrorist attacks over the last 4 months.
During a seminar titled “Discrimination and Persecution of Non-Believers around the World” at the EU on April 11th 2018, our Chairman Wilson Chowdhry inquired about the sudden shift in direction with regards to the use of trade sanctions to assist in the release of Asia Bibi and raised concerns about blasphemy laws. Mr Chowdhry ensured that Non-believers (Atheists, Humanists) were included in his analogy of the misuse of Pakistan’s blasphemy laws in keeping with the theme of the event. His question met with some applause and was referred to by every guest speaker at the event who were moved by the plight of victims of the draconian laws.
Wilson Chowdhry said:-
“…My question relates to Pakistan and how Europe could in essence assist. Pakistani Christians were heartened by comments on Jan Figel’s website which suggested that EU GSP+ status would be used as a lever to change the poor human rights record in Pakistan and include freedom for Asia Bibi – one of the world’s most famous blasphemy law victims.
“We are seeing a massive increase in intolerance in Pakistan, we’re seeing atheists killed in universities by students and professors. The blasphemy law is often a trigger for this – just a mention of blasphemy and communities can destroy cities.”
I’m wondering why after that wonderful message that was sent out on Jan Figel’s website, days later the EU ratifies renewal of GSP+ Status for Pakistan? It would suggest to me that much of what is being done here at the EU is simply lip service. I would like to see some change to that if possible.”
Gary Mcllelan from the International Humanist and Ethical Union responded by saying:
“…I would also echo the gentleman’s point about let’s put this to action. Let’s see when trade details are negotiated and when high level missions are conducted, let’s see freedom of religion and belief actually raised as an important issue in the documents and the negotiations.
“I think Jan Figel mentioned at the start- the anxiety I think correctly that some have about the idea that we’re exporting or importing western values into, I think he was talking specifically about south-east Asia.
“And again what I would echo is that from my albeit brief visit there and my knowledge of our members who are activists, who are in that region, this is not a western import or an export this is the values of tolerance, rationality , secularism [that] exist in societies and pluralist societies around the world.
“And I think that whereas we need to be diplomatic and we need to be thoughtful in the way that we engage we also need to be decisive, we need to say that we will not tolerate violations of freedom of religion and belief and one of the most fundamental of all rights the right to express the deepest and the most fundamental beliefs that are in your heart…”
Jan Figel third from left.
Later Jan Figel, said:
“It’s time to move but at least on one last point on Pakistan. Yeah, I was there, twice refused then re-invited by Pakistani Authorities, so this was good signal that something is moving. I can say that I was and I am disappointed by non-decison, not only on Asia Bibi case but many others.
My message in December to many different representatives of political or religious, judicial non-governmental space was status quo is not enough for Pakistan, for better future of the country – people there and secondly Justice delayed is justice denied. There were 19 people expecting execution because of blasphemy the first lady, the first woman, Asia Bibi is famous is known in this country – in Europe -she is honorary citizen of Paris. So many people know and many people expect that justice will be delivered.
I would love to see European Union more principled because I think what we need to see is justice in the world. Justice is important for peace – p eace is fruit of justice in the Middle-East in South-East Asia – everywhere. If we care for then we are credible inside and outside. Beginning of justice is beginning of freedom everywhere…”
An EU Parliament weblink to a video for the full seminar can be viewed using this link (click here). Wilson Chowdhry’s question can be heard at the end of the first session recorded at around 15:40 on the featured time.
On the 13th of April Mr Chowdhry spoke at a protest organised by several Pakistani Christian leaders across Europe which took place outside the EU Parliament. Community leaders had travelled from France, the UK, Holland, Italy, Germany and of course Belgium to demonstrate in solidarity. Freedom for Asia Bibi was a prominent theme for protestors and Mr Chowdhry described his chastisement of Jan Figel, which was met with applause.
Hours earlier Mr Chowdhry, had met with MEP Nathan Gill and taken part in a promotion video highlighting the suffering of Pakistani Christians. MEP Nathan Gill has agreed to raise BPCA questions in the EU Parliament to ensure the relationship between Pakistan and the EU is based on truth and mutual understanding.
A facebook link of this video footage has already gained in excess of 9000 viewings.
Wilson Chowdhry and his daughter Hannah Chowdhry (14 yrs), attended several meetings including this seminar and the AGM for the Europe of Freedom and Direct Democracy (EFDD). You can learn more about Hannah’s exploits (here)
During the protest Wilson Chowdhry also invited Lois Hugh to speak about a European Parliament prayer group which he had joined to pray for the protest, freedom for Asia Bibi and persecuted minorities in Pakistan, only hours before the event. The Pakistani Christian community were buoyed by the fact Christian lobbyists, MEP’s and official attended regular prayer sessions at the EU Parliament and were praying for Pakistan.
Wilson Chowdhry, Chairman of the British Pakistani Christian Association, said:
“By altering their standpoint the European Union may well have signed Asia Bibi’s death warrant. For certain, it would seem her life is of little consequence to them. If she is now hanged by empowered extremists in Pakistan – it could easily be said that the EU have been unwittingly complicit in her death.
“Sister Asia has been brave through the most torturous persecution and her sacrifice and dignity is a beacon to us all. I pray she never learns about her betrayal by an avaricious and insouciant European Commission, partnered by a toothless European Parliament.
“In the meanwhile many Christians across the globe continue to pray earnestly for a true and honest martyr, but more heartache will enter this situation, I am sure.
“It is grand that Jan Figel has called for a more principled European Union, however perhaps some introspection is required – his lack of a public decry against the reprehensible decision by the European Commission, suggests his expressed passion for justice is simply his latest set of hollow words.
“If only we could find a real champion for Justice, one who is not so quick to promote laudable attempts to bring change but is also willing to honour the sacrifice of suffering victims, by maintaining a resolute stance for human rights, despite the accoutrements of political life.”
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Mr Chowdhry, featured in a promotional video for persecuted minorities in Pakistan alongside MEP Nathan Gill. Please watch it (here)
Hannah and Wilson Chowdhry at a morning prayer meeting held in the EU Parliament hours before the protest.
Wilson and Hannah Chowdhry with Maired McGuire the First Vice President for the EU Parliament
Wilson and Hannah Chowdhry with Jean Lambert Chair of the South Asian Delegation for the EU Parliament