British Home Secretary Theresa May has said Britain will continue to lobby the Pakistani government for making amendments in the country’s controversial blasphemy laws to prevent more innocent people falling on its wrong side.
In a wide ranging interview with The News/Geo TV, the home secretary said she had met the assassinated Punjab governor on a number of occasions and found him to be a moderate and liberal-minded person, who still had a great contribution to make for Pakistan’s progress and she was “appalled” at his murder after the governor campaigned for the release of Aasia Bibi, the Christian woman who is alleged to have committed blasphemy, which she sternly denies.
“I was very pleased to meet Salmaan Taseer in October in Lahore and we had a good discussion. His murder should make us all think very carefully on these issues. From our point of view, we have been on a number of occasions – and continue to lobby the government to amend the blasphemy laws so that they cannot be abused,” she said, adding that the proposals made within Pakistan are the sort of amendments required. “The final decision is for the people of Pakistan to make but there is a need for the government to amend the laws so that they are not abused.”
She said that since coming into the government after last year’s 5 May election, which resulted into Conservative and Liberal Democrats Coalition government, she had taken on board many of the recommendations made by John Vine, the Independent Inspector of UK Border Agency (UKBA), which said in a damning report that the UKBA may be unlawfully discriminating against Pakistanis and it was harder to enter the UK from Pakistan, the 4th largest group to apply for UK visas each year, than from the likes of Bahrain, Abu Dhabi and Dubai.
May assured that she had taken measures to stem such discrimination but said that the John Vine report related to the period under New Labour and things had improved significantly under the new government.
“We have made improvements to the service for people applying from Pakistan. We have improved the process. We have introduced premium service for business class and that was widely welcomed. What we are trying to do is to ensure that we welcome those who have genuine reasons to come and those with fraudulent reasons should be stopped,” May said.
She referred to the MoU renewed during her last visit to Pakistan to send a message that illegal immigrants will be sent back because the new immigration approach is “risk-based” and drastic overhaul in the immigration system is reflective of that “risk-based approach”.
She acknowledged that Pakistani applicants were concerned about the Abu Dhabi hub but stressed that the “Abu Dhabi hub is working well and we are getting good turnaround of service”. She also said the opening of a new centre for application in Lahore recently showed that the system under the new government was working properly and Britain wanted more Pakistanis to visit the UK.
She revealed that she will soon be looking to bring changes to the student visa system and will ensure that those who come to study at graduate and post-graduate level are welcomed but not through the bogus colleges, which sprang up in their hundreds in the last few year but many of them have been now closed down and hundreds under review at the moment.
Theresa May said: “Too many students have been coming on courses with view to work and live here, instead of going the university to get the degree and return at the completion of the studies. We cannot allow the abuse of the system and we need to crackdown on the system that allows such abuses. We are also looking at family visas and settlement rights. The aim is to ensure we crackdown on abuses.”
She said the threat of terrorism to the UK, both the Islamist-inspired and the Northern-Ireland related, remained at high and severe level and “an attack is highly likely”. She talked at length about the PREVENT programme, Labour’s flagship programme to counter the spread of violent extremism, which has not only failed to achieve its objectives but it has been said that public funds were misused on propping up so-called community groups.
Theresa May, soon after taking over the reign at the Home Office, announced to review the PREVENT strategy in an acknowledgment that the Muslim community was wronged and that the programme had not been working as it should have been.
“One of the concerns we had was that it was a wide ranging programme but all too often it parts of it related to community cohesion and working on integration was only seen as counter-terrorism strategy. I think we need to be clear about the purposes of the different aspects about the work that is being done. We have a consultation active on this programme and officials from the Home Office have been holding events and talking to people on the ground to see how it has worked so that we can put a review proposal together,” she stated, adding that it was important to ascertain that what drives people to go down the route of radicalisation where they want to kill indiscriminately. She said Britain had an interest in dealing with this threat to ensure that vulnerable young people are not radicalised and they participate in the affairs of the society generally.
Theresa May recently used her powers to exclude an influential Indian Muslim preacher and prior to that also banned Dutch anti-Islam politician Geert Wilders but was criticised by some that the Indian televangelist should have been allowed in. But she told during the interview that she will continue to exclude and ban those individuals who in any way are deemed to be causing danger to community cohesion in Britain, be they Christian, Muslims or of any other faith.
British Muslim community has strongly felt that it has been a victim of the Labour government’s anti-terrorism legislation as the measures unfairly focused on targeting people of Muslim background. The coalition government has been in pains to point out that it will rectify the legislation to put the balance right between “the security and civil liberties of individuals”.
“We are also looking at pre-charge detention, section 44, stop and search powers. We are fully aware that the Muslim community has felt strongly about these issues.
“The other thing we are keen about is to talk to the Muslims about the whole range of government activity because obviously we have got shared interests, education, health provision and these are all important matters. It’s right that the government talks about all issues and not only about counter-terrorism. All of us who live in this country have shared values and it’s our concern what happens on the streets,” she said, elaborating how the government wants engagement at grassroots levels.