Nominations are being sought from Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) and European civil society for the 2019 European Parliament Sakharov Prize. The prize is given in recognition of individuals’ dedication to the European Parliament’s promotion of human rights.
The respect for human rights is one of the European Union’s fundamental values. Any violation of these rights affects the democratic principles upon which European society is founded, whether they take place inside or outside the EU. The European Parliament fights such violations through legislative action, including election observation, monthly human rights debates in Strasbourg, and by enshrining human rights in its external trade agreements.
The Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought was established in 1988 and has been awarded annually to individuals who have made an exceptional contribution to the fight for human rights across the globe, drawing attention to human rights violations, while supporting laureates and their cause. Last year’s laureate was Oleg Sentsov, a Ukrainian film director and writer, and outspoken opponent of Russia’s annexation of Crimea. Previous winners include the Democratic Opposition in Venezuela 2017; Nadia Murad and Lamya Haji Bashar in 2016, both from Iraq; Raif Badawi from Saudi Arabia in 2015; Denis Mukwege from the Democratic Republic of Congo in 2014; and in 2013 Malala Yousafzai, Pakistan.
This year, MEP Peter van Dalen of the Christian Union Party of the Netherlands, representing the European People’s Party in the European Parliament, has nominated lawyer Saïf-Ul-Malook from Pakistan. Van Dalen says of Saif-Ul-Malook “He is a strong defender of human rights. Daily, he has to fear for his life in defending Pakistani citizens falsely accused of blasphemy.”
In 2009, a Christian woman, Asia Bibi, was persecuted and imprisoned under the accusation of having committed blasphemy for drinking water from a well reserved for muslims. In November 2010 she was sentenced to death by a Pakistani court. In 2014, the Lahore High Court upheld this sentence. As the case went to the Pakistan Supreme Court, Saïf-Ul-Malook decided to take up the defence of Bibi. Being a Muslim himself, he decided to defend the Christian woman because of his fervent conviction that everybody is equal under the Constitution of Pakistan.
In 2011 both the Punjab-governor, Mr. Salman Taseer, and the Pakistan Cabinet Minister, Mr. Clement Shahbaz Bhatti, were shot dead by extremists because they had requested certain amendment be made to Pakistan’s blasphemy laws. The discrimination and the continued persecution of religious minorities in Pakistan has drawn international condemnation of Pakistan’s policies and especially its blasphemy laws from governments and human rights organisations.
In June 2017, the European Parliament issued a resolution on Pakistan, regarding the situation of human rights defenders, and the continued use of the death penalty, specifically mentioning Asia Bibi. On the 31st of October 2018 the Pakistan Supreme Court released Bibi, thanks to Malook’s counsel, and due to continued international condemnation of Pakistan’s actions. Whilst Bibi was released, her safety, the safety of her family and associates, as well as her her lawyer, could not be assured. Islamic extremists sought to kill her and those who had supported her. Ultimately, she was forced to flee Pakistan and was finally given refuge in Canada along with her family after several countries in Europe said they could not guarantee her safety.
Malook had to leave Pakistan also. Muslim extremists from the Tehreek-e-LabbaikPakistan(TLP) far-right Islamist political party blocked many roads in Pakistan, searching cars and buses looking for Malook. He managed to escape to Europe in November 2018. Arriving first in Rome, he then went to The Netherlands, where he was given shelter and asylum. However, Malook eventually decided to return to Pakistan despite the many death-threats. He was present in Islamabad on the 29th of January when the Supreme Court rejected a claim from extremist Muslims to revise the Asia Bibi verdict. Although Malooks’ life has been threatened daily, he continues to take up cases of those accused of blasphemy in Pakistan. He is now active in both Pakistan and around the world speaking out against the blasphemy laws and pleading for equality of all religious minorities in Pakistan.
In November 2018 Malook visited the European Parliament and requested the Parliamentarians to support his human rights work, and those of others like him.
MEP Van Dalen confirms that “the case of Saïf-Ul-Malook [and also of Asia Bibi] shows the great injustice that makes many victims in Pakistan. Injustice because of its blasphemy-laws. These laws are the cause why many hundreds of Muslims, Christians, Sufi, Shia, Ahmadi and Non-Believers are now in jail.” Van Dalen justified his nomination by saying “By honoringSaïf-Ul-Malook the European Parliament not only honors a great human rights defender who has to fear for his life daily. The Parliament also gives a clear signal to the Pakistani Government to change the blasphemy laws that make so many victims in the country.”