Pakistan Independence Day: British MPs call for end to blasphemy laws on 70th anniversary

MPs are using the 70th anniversary of Pakistan's independence to urge its rulers to repeal blasphemy laws and instil religious freedom.

In a letter signed by 24 leading British politicians to the country's President and Prime Minister, they say the current state of affairs in Pakistan is a 'painful contrast' to the vision of its founders.

Protesters hold up placards while demanding the release of Asia Bibi, a Pakistani Christian woman who has been sentenced to death for blasphemy.Reuters

The plea was coordinated by Labour's Siobhain McDonagh, chair of the all-party group for Ahmadiyya Muslims, a sect of Islam heavily persecuted in Pakistan and is also signed by shadow chancellor John McDonnell.

Citing several laws targeting religious minorities, McDonagh and her colleagues write: 'The Ahmadiyya Muslim community and other religious minorities including Shia Muslims, Christians and Hindus suffer a denial of religious freedom at the hands of the state compounded by harassment, violence and persecution from extremists.'

They urge Pakistan to use its 70th anniversary as an occasion to revive the original vision of a country 'united, open and free, where religious freedom' is integral.

'We sincerely believe that by addressing these pressing issues and by repealing these laws you will bequeath a priceless gift to the people of Pakistan, a gift of hope, unity and prosperity and we earnestly hope that you will give these issues the urgent attention they deserve.'

McDonagh said she congratulated Pakistan on its anniversary and was a 'friend' but called for 'concrete action' to guarantee religious freedom.

'Federal laws that target Ahmadi Muslims as well as the Blasphemy Laws that are used to deny freedom of religion for Ahmadis, Christians, Shias and Hindus must be repealed so that all religious communities can live without fear and contribute to the country's success,' she said.

Signed by several leading Christian parliamentarians, including Lord Alton of Liverpool and the DUP's Jim Shannon, the letter comes as part of rising pressure on Pakistan to end religious persecution.

Last month MEP Marijana Petir called for Pakistan's blasphemy laws to be repealed and a 'safe place' found for Christians in an article for the European Parliament's magazine.

'Successive Pakistani governments have allowed radicalised extremist forces to thrive, drastically reducing tolerance within society and depriving minority religious groups the right to live safely and with dignity,' she wrote, adding Christians, who make up 1.6 per cent of Pakistan's population, 'live in constant fear of persecution, are denied their basic right to education and livelihood, and forced to live in their own restricted ghetto-like neighbourhoods'.