HC Deb 16 February 1999 vol 325 cc725-6
8. Mr. Julian Brazier (Canterbury)

What steps he is taking to monitor human rights abuses in Pakistan. [69427]

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Mr. Derek Fatchett)

During my visit to Pakistan last week, I raised with the Minister for Justice a number of concerns about human rights.

Mr. Brazier

Is the Minister concerned about the arrest earlier this month of four leading members of Pakistan's third-largest party, the Mohajir Qaumi Movement; and about the considerable evidence of religious persecution side by side with political persecution, including the fact that five Christians currently await trial under Islamic blasphemy laws? Is the Minister willing to use this country's considerable leverage—Pakistan is a recipient of aid from us and is a full member of the Commonwealth once more—to make those points strongly to the Pakistani Government? Is he willing to receive written representations from the MQM on the political matters and from Christian rights organisations?

Mr. Fatchett

Last week, I took the opportunity to stress our concerns about the need to maintain religious freedom, which is part of Pakistan's written constitution. The Minister for Justice reassured me that the Government were committed to that constitution and would try to implement it. What is important is that practice coincides with the written letter of the law, and we shall certainly take every action possible to ensure that that step is taken and that there is religious freedom in Pakistan.

Mrs. Alice Mahon (Halifax)

Has my right hon. Friend had time to read last week's debate on human rights for women, which was initiated by my hon. Friend the Member for Keighley (Mrs. Cryer)? May I draw the House's attention to the fact that, under the Zina laws and Huddood ordinances, women in Pakistan are quite often denied basic human rights? Dreadful practices often take place. Will my right hon. Friend the Minister take up directly with the Government of Pakistan the need to get rid of those unjust laws?

Mr. Fatchett

I assure my hon. Friend that I took up those points last week: I expressed our concern that there should be equality before the law and that women in Pakistan should enjoy the same rights as men. I also stressed to the Ministers I met that the increasing influence of the Taliban on Pakistan is a detrimental and negative influence, on which the Government in Pakistan should keep a close watch.

Mrs. Virginia Bottomley (South-West Surrey)

The Ahmadiyya community have their European conference centre in my constituency, and they report a series of deplorable human rights abuses, including lack of freedom of religion, speech or assembly. They know that the Government have said that human rights are at the heart of their policy, but what substance is behind the rhetoric? Is there any hope for practical improvement for them and their families in Pakistan?

Mr. Fatchett

I can only repeat to the right hon. Lady the point that I have just made to the hon. Member for Canterbury (Mr. Brazier) and my hon. Friend the Member for Halifax (Mrs. Mahon), which is that we are concerned about religious freedom in Pakistan. Pakistan's written constitution states that individuals should have a right to practise their faith, but clearly that right is not always honoured in practice. I assure the right hon. Lady that we shall continue to make the strongest possible representations to the Government of Pakistan that people should enjoy their rights under their country's constitution.

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