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JUSTICE COMMITTEE HATE CRIME AND PUBLIC ORDER (SCOTLAND) BILL

SUPPLEMENTARY SUBMISSION FROM NETWORK OF SIKH ORGANISATIONS

(NSO)

The Network of Sikh Organisations (NSO) is a registered charity no.1064544 that links more than 130 UK gurdwaras and other UK Sikh organisations in active cooperation to enhance the image and understanding of Sikhism in the UK.

This submission is supplementary to our original REF: J/S5/20/HC/1756 dated 17th September 2020 and our 2nd submission dated 16th November 2020 REF: J/S5/20/HC/1771, which followed the oral hearing on 10th November 2020 in which our Deputy-Director Hardeep Singh gave evidence to the Justice Committee alongside several other organisations. This 3rd submission is in response to consideration of options tabled for a new overarching free speech clause, which has been proposed by the Secretary for Justice.

1.1 Previously agreed clause for protecting free speech when it comes to matters of religion and belief

We are surprised that only two of the options offered for review as a ‘catch all’ free speech provision by the Secretary for Justice, include an already agreed amendment when it comes to protecting free speech when discussing matters of religion and belief. This was approved unanimously by the committee last week and something we raised along with others in oral evidence to the Justice Committee, and in our previous written submissions. The new and controversial ‘stirring up hatred’ offences must include free speech clauses to protect speech beyond merely ‘criticism’ and ‘discussion’ of religion. The previously agreed amendment would have provided greater protection to expressions of ‘antipathy’, ‘ridicule’, ‘dislike’ or ‘insult’ of religion or belief and brought this free speech protection (in the Hate Crime and Public Order Bill) in line with an equivalent clause in section 29J of the Religious Hatred Act 2006[i] (England & Wales).

During the oral evidence session on 10th November 2020 Anthony Horan Director, Catholic Parliamentary Office of the Bishops’ Conference of Scotland, Neil Barber, spokesperson for Scotland, National Secular Society (NSS) , Kieran Turner, Public Policy Officer, Scotland, Evangelical Alliance, and our Deputy-Director Hardeep Singh all supported the echoing of freedom of speech provisions in English law, when it comes to religion and belief.[ii] This was later agreed as an amendment by the committee. It is frankly remarkable how this now appears to have been rescinded in two of, ‘four options for freedom of expression provision.’[iii] We are not alone in our astonishment and disappointment at this development – our allies in the Free to Disagree Campaign, the NSS have rightly described this development as ‘perplexing and farcical.’[iv]

1.2 More time is required to consider the ‘catch all’ free speech clauses

We are alarmed by the speed in which this critical part of the public consultation is now being conducted. Our Deputy-Director was a signatory to a letter calling for deferring scrutiny of the draft stirring up hatred offences proposals until after the May election.[v] This stage of the public consultation was announced on 18th February 2021, and evidence in response to the ‘catch all’ free speech provision has been given the deadline of 10:00 Monday 22nd February 2021. This is only two working days and simply not sufficient notice to provide these ‘catch all’ free speech clauses the attention they deserve. There are also questions as to why the free speech defence for religion and belief (in two of the proposed provisions) which mirrors English law, has not been expanded to other protected characteristics in which only ‘discussion or criticism’ is protected. This not only creates a clear hierarchy of free speech defences but puts those who for example, want to air strong opinions on transgender issues/women’s rights in serious difficulty if this legislation is enacted.

1.3 Parliamentary scrutiny and procedure on previously agreed free speech clause for religion and belief

We would also like to understand the mechanism and process by which the previously agreed free speech clause for religion and belief, has essentially been shelved in all but two of the proposed ‘catch all’ clauses. It would indeed be helpful if an explanation is provided by the Secretary for Justice during the oral evidence session scheduled at 14:30 on 22nd February 2021.

Network of Sikh Organisations

20 February 2021


[i] https://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/2006/1/schedule

[ii] https://www.parliament.scot/S5_JusticeCommittee/Inquiries/JS52020R22Stage1ReportontheHateCrimeandPublicOrderBill20201210SPPaper878_.pdf

[iii] https://www.parliament.scot/S5_JusticeCommittee/Meeting%20Papers/Papers_20210222_Public.pdf

[iv] https://www.secularism.org.uk/news/2021/02/confusion-over-free-speech-protection-on-religion-in-hate-crime-bill

[v] https://freetodisagree.scot/holyrood-urged-to-pause-divisive-hate-crime-proposals/

NSO submission to APPG for the Pakistani Minorities inquiry into Abduction, Forced Conversions and Forced Marriages of Religious Minority Girls and Women in Pakistan

The Network of Sikh Organisations (NSO) is a registered charity no.1064544 that links more than 130 UK gurdwaras and other UK Sikh organisations in active cooperation to enhance the image and understanding of Sikhism in the UK.

For the sake of brevity and convenience, we have used headings in the APPG briefing document. We are grateful to former councillor/detective Gurpal Virdi for his input.

Human Rights Organisation/NGOs/Faith and non-faith based groups, Experts

i.          Name and organisation? What is the nature of your work on the topic? Do you work with the victims and their families? How many victims or their families do you work with? What assistance do you provide?

Over the last few years, the NSO has followed cases of forced conversion and written about the forced marriage and abuse of religious minority girls and women in Pakistan. This is an issue that has an impact on all non-Muslim minority girls in Pakistan – predominantly Hindu and Christian girls, but it has also impacted the minority Sikh community too. One of the most high-profile cases in recent years has been the case of Jagjit Kaur.[i] She was alleged to be kidnapped at gunpoint from her home in Nankana Sahib (Lahore), converted (given the Muslim name Ayesha) and married to a Muslim boy.[ii]

In many cases the victim’s family face legal challenges, intimidation and according to Professor Javaid Rehman from Brunel University, ‘local authorities, especially police, particularly in the Punjab province, are often accused of being complicit in these cases by failing to properly investigate reported cases or prosecute offenders’.[iii] Legal petitions filed in court from the family members of the accused boy/men, often follow a similar pattern with statements alleging the girl(s) converted and married of their free will. This makes it difficult, if not impossible for the victim families to get access to justice through the courts. Many come from poor backgrounds, and do not have the necessary resources to defend their rights.

According to the academic research on this matter, we understand that approximately 1,000 women and girls from religious minorities are abducted, forcibly converted to Islam, and then married off to their abductors every year in Pakistan.[iv] Our Director Lord Singh of Wimbledon has raised the treatment of minorities in debates in the House of Lords. In a debate on 2nd July 2019 ‘Pakistan: Aid programmes and Human Rights’ – our Director said:

‘Minorities are frequently allocated menial tasks such as the cleaning of public latrines. Homes of minorities are frequently attacked and women and girls kidnapped and converted or sold into slavery. I have at times questioned the appropriateness of Pakistan, with its ill treatment of minorities, still being a member of the Commonwealth, a club of countries with historic ties to Britain. Members are required to abide by the Commonwealth charter, with core values of opposition to, “all forms of discrimination, whether rooted in gender, race, colour, creed, political belief or other grounds”.’[v]

ii.         What, in your opinion, are the weaknesses and limitations of the existing laws?

The APPG briefing paper outlines the existing laws including the Child Marriage Restraint Act 1929 of Pakistan, and in Sindh – the Sindh Child Marriage Restraint Act 2014. It says, ‘In another major province, Punjab, the Punjab Marriage Restraint Act 2015 kept the legal age of marriage at 16 years. In 2018, the chairman of the Council of Islamic Ideology announced that a nikah (Islamic marriage) can be performed at any age but the couple can only live together after the age of 18.’ The difficulty here is changes to Pakistan’s law designed to safeguard minors and criminalise those that marry underage boys or girls, although well-meaning conflict with some interpretations of sharia being propagated by influential preachers and Islamic organisations.

Although we submit this isn’t limited to the issue of forced marriage and conversion of minority faith girls only, it has been seen most prominently with the backlash against Pakistan’s Supreme Court decision in the Asia Bibi blasphemy case. Both Bibi and the Supreme Court justices’ received death threats because of the decision to free her.[vi] The courts make important rulings, and some influential clerics push back. The late Khadim Hussain Rizvi, leader of the hardline Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) party (whose family was given condolences when he died by Imran Khan),[vii] was a pro-blasphemy law campaigner.

He can be seen in footage giving a speech in which he says keeping relationships with ‘kaffirs’ (a derogatory term), or non-Muslims should be treated like one’s relationship with a toilet.[viii] The dissemination of this kind of doctrinally motivated hatred against non-Muslims by pro-blasphemy clerics in Pakistan serves to incite hatred against non-Muslims and dehumanises them. Whilst laws designed to safeguard against child marriage are indeed a welcome step, do they make a difference in real terms with this backdrop? We believe the problem is compounded because there appears to be little done to address hate speech against non-Muslims. The propagation of this hatred sows the seeds of prejudice, and facilitates the ongoing issue of abduction, forced conversions, and forced marriages of religious minority girls/women in Pakistan.

iii.        What, in your opinion, is the problem with implementation of the existing laws that should have protected the victims?

The APPG for the Pakistani minorities 2019 report Religious Minorities of Pakistan: Report of a Parliamentary visit (27 September 2018 – 3 October 2018), cites a report produced by the Commonwealth Initiative for Freedom of Religion or Belief (2018):

‘the police will often either refuse to record an [First information Report] FIR or falsify the information recorded on the FIR, thus denying the families involved the chance to take their case and complaints any further. The lack of an FIR or the misrepresentation of information means that the family are unable to seek further justice in law courts, as an FIR is the vital first stage in the Criminal Procedure Code. Police are also often lethargic in attempting to recover a girl who has been abducted, thus allowing the conversion and marriage to take place. Both the lower courts and the higher courts of Pakistan have displayed bias and a lack of adherence to proper procedures in cases that involve accusations of forced marriage and forced conversions [and in such cases] the judiciary is often subjected to external influences, such as fear of reprisal and violence from extremist elements.’[ix]

We believe this sums up the plight for minorities in Pakistani, in their inability to obtain justice through the legal system. Unless the status quo is changed both in the way the police and judiciary deal with such cases, the ill treatment of minorities will continue unabated. The flaws in the existing system, along with the bias in favour of the accused abductors, is likely to not only further embolden perpetrators, but gives them the reassurance they need that they will be granted impunity for their actions.

iv.        How, in your opinion, could the Federal and Provincial Governments improve the laws to eliminate the issue of abductions, forced conversions and forced marriages? 

We believe the way to tackle this is two-prong, looking at both shifting societal attitudes, as well as training and education for officials. Firstly, there must be meaningful effort to reduce societal hatred and hostility towards non-Muslims. Second there must be training for officials to highlight their obligations when it comes to the rights of non-Muslim children.

Rather than reinventing the wheel, there have already been some meaningful recommendations put forward for the attention of the Pakistani authorities by this very APPG in their 2019 report. Some examples which would encourage better treatment of minorities in Pakistan:

  • ban all discriminatory employment advertisements reserving low-paid or menial

jobs for non-Muslims only and introduce financial penalties for breaching the

ban.[x]

  • review all laws that are in conflict with Pakistan’s international human rights

obligations and make recommendations to the Parliament to bring domestic laws

in full conformity with international law.[xi]

  • the right to freedom from sexual and physical harassment should constitute part of

the national school curriculum, accompanied by vigorous television and social

media campaigns condemning sexual abuse, forced marriages and forced

conversions.[xii]

More broadly speaking there should be the requirement of mandatory training programmes for the police, social workers, the judiciary on the rights of children and their responsibility to safeguard those rights which are enshrined under Pakistan’s constitution and the law, moreover, the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and within international human rights law.

vii.       What, in your opinion, are the effects of such abductions, forced conversions and forced marriages on a) the victims and b) their families?

Although we have not conducted any direct victim assessments, it is clear the impact of these heinous crimes is severe for the victim and their families. Those who try to fight back through the legal system often face intimidation and threats. The family of Jagjit Kaur were reportedly threatened.[xiii] It is difficult for us to fathom the upheaval and chaos the families and victims go through. Tweeting about the case of Simron Kumari, Veengas a Sindh based journalist and founder of The Rise News, writes, ‘parents have been raising voice for their daughter since 2019. Now, Simron Kumari who was abducted and converted to Islam. Family seeks help but who will listen to their anguish. You cannot do justice to mothers. I request you (sic) that if you have heart then feel their sorrow.’[xiv] In the same thread she writes, ‘Unfortunately, Urdu Elite Media don’t cover Forced conversions issues as they should have covered. Majority of minor girls being abducted & converted to Islam.’[xv] According to another report, a father of two Hindu girls kidnapped in Sindh, protested outside a police station and said, ‘You can kill me. I will never tolerate this. My daughters have been abducted—I had patience.’[xvi]

ix.        How can the Home Office be persuaded that the presumption in any such victims case, if applying for asylum in the UK, should be that they have been persecuted for their faith?            

Country policy and information notes on Pakistan, which are published by the Home Office should be updated to include information about the persecution of minority faiths in Pakistan on the issue of abduction, forced conversions, and forced marriages. There should be an understanding of the issue at hand amongst Home Office staff, not least immigration officials – so they can make the appropriate assessments for asylum applications.

Network of Sikh Organisations

12 February 2021


[i] http://nsouk.co.uk/the-abduction-and-conversion-of-a-sikh-girl-in-pakistan-is-not-an-isolated-incident/

[ii] https://www.indiatoday.in/world/story/pakistan-sikh-girl-kidnapped-and-married-to-muslim-yet-to-return-home-1603605-2019-09-26

[iii] https://www.spiked-online.com/2019/10/24/pakistans-persecuted-minorities/

[iv] https://www.birmingham.ac.uk/Documents/college-artslaw/ptr/ciforb/Forced-Conversions-and-Forced-Marriages-in-Sindh.pdf

[v] https://hansard.parliament.uk/lords/2019-07-02/debates/B499D3A4-62F1-478B-B6D7-DC97EF160B2B/PakistanAidProgrammesAndHumanRights

[vi] https://edm.parliament.uk/early-day-motion/52298

[vii] https://twitter.com/ImranKhanPTI/status/1329485070344839168

[viii] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RcZq-G_E5z0

[ix] https://appgfreedomofreligionorbelief.org/media/190918-Full-Report-Religious-Minorities-of-Pakistan-Report-of-a-Parliamentary-Visit.pdf

[x] Ibid.

[xi] Ibid.

[xii] Ibid.

[xiii] https://www.sikhpa.com/kidnapping-and-forced-conversion-of-sikh-girl-in-pakistan-leads-to-public-outcry/

[xiv] https://twitter.com/VeengasJ/status/1296407534266392576

[xv] https://twitter.com/VeengasJ/status/1296407522270679040

[xvi] https://www.newindianexpress.com/magazine/2019/mar/31/brides-of-despair-1956753.html

JOINT PRESS RELEASE: GLOBAL SIKH COUNCIL & NETWORK OF SIKH ORGANISATIONS UK

We are writing to express our admiration and full support for hundreds of thousands of Indian farmers and their supporters from all walks of life. Despite the winter cold, and police oppression, they have been demonstrating for the months against unjust laws that threaten their livelihoods. Their courageous stand against injustice gives hope for an end to the systematic erosion of democracy in India.

India’s abuse of human rights
The farmers’ cause is just and is fully supported by leading figures in the judiciary, high-ranking civil servants, university and college lecturers, trade unionists, Indians abroad and government spokesmen in the UK and Canada. As a UK spokesman put it, ‘the right to peaceful demonstration is a basic human right’. The response of the Modi government to this basic human right has been widespread use of tear gas, water cannons, and police brutality against peaceful protesters. There is now a call for India to be expelled from the Commonwealth for its flagrant abuse of human rights.

Many will be unaware that Narendra Modi is a supporter of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), a fascist group modelled on the Hitler Youth Movement. In 2002, he was Chief Minister at the time of the infamous Gujarat ‘riots’, which led to the slaughter of thousands of Muslims. For some years he was barred from entry to the USA and UK. Today, RSS thugs or ‘goons’ are collaborating with rogue Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) supporters and are being given a free hand to beat and maim peaceful protesters including women and the elderly. The farmers’ peaceful protest has captured the world’s admiration in the way it looks to the wellbeing not only of the protesters, but also in the way food and medical assistance is offered to the attacking police.

On India’s Republic Day (26 January), India’s compliant police following orders, removed barricades and opened the large steel gates to the Red Fort to allow known BJP activists to enter as supposed farmer activists to enable the government to smear the protesters as anti-national. Brave reporters in India’s tightly controlled media, who drew attention to this absurdity or questioned government action have been harassed and arrested. Many have had their social media accounts blocked and some have disappeared without trace.

The farming laws
India’s farmers have long been exploited by greedy middlemen. The Modi government saw this an opportunity to ‘reorganise’ farming. These laws blatantly allow billionaire businessmen who are also party supporters to control the supply and distribution of agricultural produce throughout the country in a way that would leave farmers virtual serfs on their own land.

• The laws were rushed through Parliament with no time given for proper scrutiny or debate.
• They laws are clearly unconstitutional. The Constitution states that agriculture is a devolved responsibility of individual States, not the central government.
• The laws have been condemned as unconstitutional by senior members of the judiciary.
• The laws abolish the minimum support price given to farmers.
• The laws allow for no right of appeal.
• Two close billionaire friends of Modi, with a pre-knowledge of the government’s intentions, brought huge sites in Punjab to build giant silos for the long-term storage of grain allowing for price rigging and manipulation.
• Today, in Modi’s India, 1% of India’s population owns nearly half the country’s wealth.

Erosion of democracy in Modi’s India
We are deeply concerned by the government’s dismissive attitude to the requirements of its secular constitution and the human rights of its people. The Citizens Amendment Act, in its appeal to majority bigotry, deprived more than a million Muslims of their citizenship with Home Minister Amit Shah referring to Muslim refugees as ‘termites’. This was followed by the repeal of Article 370 placing Kashmir under military rule.

The highly respected human rights organisation Amnesty International has been expelled from India to prevent it reporting on the growing abuse of human rights. Amnesty commented, ‘It is a dismal day when a country of India’s stature, a rising global power and a member of the UN Human Rights Council, with a constitution which commits to human rights and whose national human rights movements have influenced the world, so brazenly seeks to silence those who pursue accountability and justice’.

Urgent action required
India’s farmers’ brave stand against injustice is fast becoming a people’s movement for the restoration of democracy and human rights in India. We pledge them our full support. Those of us living abroad have a particular responsibility to support a movement that has at least 67 lives lost already through cold weather and lack of medical supplies.

While calling on governments around the world to condemn India’s repressive behaviour, we urge Mr Modi to commence urgent talks with farmer’s leaders to meet their genuine concerns.

Lord Singh of Wimbledon CBE, Member of House of Lords UK Parliament – Director, Network of Sikh Organisations (UK)

Lady Singh, Kanwaljit Kaur, President Global Sikh Council

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