Brussels: Pakistan on Friday expressed disappointment over the adoption of a resolution by the European Parliament calling for a review of Pakistan's eligibility for the General Scheme of Preferences Plus (GSP+) status in wake of an "alarming" increase in the use of blasphemy accusations in the country as well as rising number of online and offline attacks on journalists and civil society organisations.

In an official statement, Pakistan's foreign office said that the discourse in the European legislature reflected "a lack of understanding" regarding blasphemy laws and religious sensitivities in Pakistan and the rest of the Muslim world, Arab News reported.

"Pakistan is a parliamentary democracy with a vibrant civil society, free media and independent judiciary, which remains fully committed to the promotion and protection of human rights for all its citizens without discrimination," said the statement.

The resolution, which was passed on Friday, calls on the Pakistan government to "unequivocally condemn" incitement to violence and discrimination against religious minorities in the country. It also expresses "deep concern" at the prevailing anti-French sentiment in Pakistan, Dawn reported.

The resolution has come days after members of now-outlawed Tehreek-e-Labbiak Pakistan (TLP) held violent protests after the group's leader was arrested for demanding the expulsion of the French ambassador.

Succumbing to Islamists' demands, Pakistan's Imran Khan-led government decided to introduce a resolution in the country's Parliament to expel the French ambassador.

Member of European Parliament (MEP) Charlie Weimers of Sweden, who co-authored the resolution, in his speech during the parliament's latest session cited various incidents of members of religious minorities killed or imprisoned in Pakistan over accusations of blasphemy.

"Pakistan's Prime Minister Imran Khan, rather than defend his citizens' human rights against false accusers, [...] equated denial of the Holocaust and genocide to criticism of Islam's Prophet (PBUH)," he said in his remarks.

The EU Parliament "calls on the Commission and the European External Action Service (EEAS) to immediately review Pakistan's eligibility for GSP+ status in the light of current events and whether there is sufficient reason to initiate a procedure for the temporary withdrawal of this status and the benefits that come with it, and to report to the European Parliament on this matter as soon as possible".

In January 2014, the EU granted Pakistan status under its flagship trading scheme, the General Scheme of Preferences Plus (GSP+).

The GSP+ provides enhanced and preferential free trade between the EU and a small list of countries that are meant to be among those developing countries with the best human rights records.

The EU resolution expresses particular concern regarding the case of couple Shagufta Kausar and Shafqat Emmanuel, who were sentenced to death on blasphemy charges in 2014.

These charges emanated from the alleged sending of text messages disrespectful of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) from a phone number registered to Kausar to the person accusing the couple of blasphemy.

"The evidence on which the couple were convicted can be considered deeply flawed," it states, noting that the couple had allegedly been in an argument with the accuser not long before the accusations were made.

The couple remains in jail pending a court ruling on their appeal against their death sentence. The appeal was due to be heard in April 2020, six years after they were sentenced, but has been postponed multiple times, most recently on February 15, 2021, according to the resolution.

The resolution noted that there has been "an alarming increase" in accusations of blasphemy online and offline in Pakistan over the past year, with the highest number of accusations since 1987 taking place in 2020.

Many of these allegations targeted human rights defenders, journalists, artists and the most marginalised segments. "Pakistan's blasphemy laws are increasingly used for personal or political score-settling in violation of the rights to freedom of religion and belief and of opinion and expression," it states.

According to the resolution, the situation in Pakistan "continued to deteriorate in 2020 as the government systematically enforced blasphemy laws and failed to protect religious minorities from abuses by non-state actors, with a sharp rise in targeted killings, blasphemy cases, forced conversions, and hate speech against religious minorities including Ahmadis, Shia Muslims, Hindus, Christians and Sikhs; whereas abduction, forced conversion to Islam, rape and forced marriage remained an imminent threat for religious minority women and children in 2020, particularly those from the Hindu and Christian faiths".

The resolution called on the Pakistani government to "unequivocally condemn incitement to violence and discrimination against religious minorities in the country" and put in place "effective, procedural and institutional safeguards" to prevent the abuse of the blasphemy laws, while noting that it has been made a requirement that no police officer below the level of police superintendent may investigate charges before registering a case.

It also expressed concern over "an increasing number of online and offline attacks on journalists and civil society organisations, in particular against women and the most marginalised in society", noting that such attacks often include false accusations of blasphemy, which can lead to physical attacks, killings, arbitrary arrest and detention.