Vulnerable groups hit hardest by pandemic in 2020 in Punjab

Lahore, June 23, 2021 (PPI-OT):The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP)’s annual report on the state of human rights in 2020 underscores the extent to which the Covid-19 pandemic exposed the shortcomings of the healthcare sector, both in terms of preparedness and access to facilities. This was especially dangerous in Punjab’s jails where overcrowding and substandard hygiene exacerbated an already fraught situation for vulnerable inmates.

Factory workers and daily-wage earners were among the hardest hit, with hundreds of thousands of lay-offs taking place during the lockdowns. Students were compelled to protest when online classes served to benefit only those living in areas with a stable digital infrastructure. However, actions to curtail such public assemblies were erratic, with political gatherings facing more restrictions than large religious congregations or protests by ordinary citizens.

The passage of the Punjab Textbook and Curriculum Amendment Bill and the Punjab Tahaffuz-i-Bunyad-i-Islam Bill 2020 led to public outrage as yet another move to tighten restrictions on freedoms of expression, thought and belief in the guise of protecting religion.

No inroads were made in tackling the backlog of court cases – 188,176 in the Lahore High Court by end-December 2020. HRCP also documented the imposition of the death penalty in 91 instances, involving 148 victims. In an encouraging development, no executions were, however, carried out.

Law enforcement in Punjab was marred by frequent internal transfers and infighting within the police force. Citizens complained that it was increasingly difficult to register first information reports, especially in cases where relatives had been killed in police ‘encounters’ or in custody, or in cases of illegal land acquisition by influential people. The National Accountability Bureau also came under fire for making allegedly politically motivated arrests.

Reports of cases of child abuse continued unabated, with Punjab accounting for over 57 percent of all reported cases. Religious minorities faced persistent marginalisation over the year, with accusations of blasphemy and forced conversions. Police data indicates that 487 blasphemy cases were registered in Punjab alone. On a positive note, the Punjab government took measures to prevent hate speech on social media, which helped ensure a peaceful Muharram – over 4,000 such websites were blocked and action taken against their operators for inciting sectarian violence.

The gang-rape of a woman on the Lahore-Sialkot motorway in September 2020 elicited outrage and wide public condemnation, especially after the capital city police officer came under fire for ill-advised comments implying that the woman was indirectly to blame. In an important development, however, women’s rights activists challenged the archaic and demeaning ‘two-finger test’ for virginity in the Lahore High Court, winning their case in November.

For more information, contact:
Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP)
Aiwan-i-Jamhoor, 107-Tipu Block,
New Garden Town, Lahore-54600
Tel: +92-42-35864994
Fax: +92-42-35883582