Plenary speech on religious freedom in Pakistan

Marietje Schaake, on behalf of the ALDE Group – Madam President, blasphemy laws in Pakistan, as various colleagues have pointed out, are easily abused by extremists as an excuse to use violence against religious or non-religious minorities. Of course, freedom of religion is important, but freedom from religion is also important. These blasphemy laws in a society in which freedom of expression is repressed in the name of religion pose another risk; last Wednesday, a court in Pakistan banned the social networking site Facebook in the country. The Pakistani Telecom authority instructed all Internet providers to block the website. The measure was taken to prevent people from learning about alleged insulting remarks on Islam or the prophet Mohammed. A cartoonist took the initiative to call on people to produce drawings of the Prophet to resist pressures such as that brought upon the popular series South Park , which led to edits in the programme. Facebook, as well as on-line services and platforms, are an important virtual passage to the rest of the world. It opens up sources of information and contact for Pakistanis and allows them to engage in an exchange of ideas; especially the young generation of Pakistanis can be enlightened through the Internet, as school materials often contain discriminatory and one-sided language. Criminalising free speech is not an effective way of allowing Pakistani society to deal with diversity. Cartoonists, journalists and citizens should be able to speak their minds freely even if that means insulting some people. Challenges to free speech are not exclusively found in Pakistan; in Europe, we face serious challenges to open debate as well. Threats to journalists, cartoonists and artists are becoming more common and they challenge our liberal, democratic societies. Self-censorship is becoming more common and politicians, cartoonists and journalists now need protection against death threats. Let us be inspired to stand for freedom of expression in the European Union, but also in Pakistan and the world over. It is the best remedy against extremism.