Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan has urged Muslim leaders to put pressure on Western countries to implement their own anti-blasphemy laws.
“Together, we should ask Europe, the European Union and United Nations to stop hurting the feelings of 1.25 billion Muslim like they do not do in case of Jews,” said Khan this week, reported Dawn.
Anti-France protests have erupted in Pakistan in the past weeks as the parliament moved to expel the French ambassador from the country.
A banned Islamist group demanded that Pakistan expel the ambassador in retaliation for the publication in France of cartoons depicting the Prophet Mohammed.
Khan warned that Pakistan risked paying a price if it expelled the French envoy, as half the country’s exports are sold to the European Union.
“I want the Muslim countries to devise a joint line of action over the blasphemy issue with a warning of trade boycott of countries where such incidents will happen,” said Khan at a ceremony on April 26.
He said it would be “the most effective way to achieve the goal” of ending statements that would hurt the feelings of Muslims.
Khan said his government has been talking with Muslim countries to put pressure on the West. He said threatening his government to expel the French ambassador is not a solution.
Early this month, Pakistan arrested the leader of the group Tehrik-e-Labaik Pakistan after violent protests to pressure the government to expel the French envoy.
Four police officers were killed, 11 taken hostage and more than 800 wounded, many seriously, during week-long clashes.
In talks later, the government agreed to put a resolution before parliament on whether to expel the ambassador in return for an end to the protests.
Relations between Paris and Islamabad became more strained after President Emmanuel Macron paid tribute late last year to a French teacher who was beheaded by a man of Chechen origin for showing a class on free speech cartoons depicting the Prophet.
Many Muslims consider such cartoons blasphemous. Macron maintains that free speech is a fundamental right in France.
At that time, protests broke out in Muslim world, including one led by the Islamists who shut the main highway to Islamabad until Khan’s government agreed to endorse a boycott of French products and expel the envoy.
Pakistan’s own blasphemy laws include a mandatory death sentence which has yet to be carried out.
Amnesty International said the laws are incompatible with international human rights laws, overly broad, vague and coercive.
Blasphemy allegations have often been used to intimidate religious minorities and to settle personal scores in the South Asian nation.
Currently, there are 24 Christians imprisoned on blasphemy charges in the country. Most of those accused of blasphemy belong to the Ahmadi Muslim minority, which is viewed by many Muslims in Pakistan as heretical.
One of the most well-known past cases was that of Asia Bibi, a Catholic woman who spent eight years on death row over a false blasphemy conviction. In October 2018 Bibi was acquitted and she now lives abroad.