A crackdown on Pakistan mosques which use loudspeakers to blare out incendiary language against minorities has cut down hate speech in the largest province of Punjab, the police chief said.
Punjab, which has a population of about 100 million, has historically struggled to curb sectarian violence and hate speech by firebrand Muslim Sunni clerics who often refer to minorities such as Shi’ites and Ahmadis as “heretics”.
The rise of sectarianism in Pakistan, a mainly Muslim nation of 190 million people, has alarmed officials who worry stoking of religious animosity could further destabilise a nation already beset by an Islamist insurgency.
The crackdown on hate crime began in December 2014 after militants from the Pakistani Taliban killed more than 150 people in a Peshawar school, including 134 children. Critics, however, say much more could be done.
Mushtaq Ahmad Sukhera, the police inspector general for Punjab, said about 9,500 cases were brought against those spouting hate speech via loudspeakers traditionally used by mosques to call for prayer.
“The misuse of that sound system has come to an end,” Sukhera told Reuters in an interview. “That, to me, is a big success.”
Sukhera said mosques where hate speech was taking place have been put under surveillance, while offensive material has been removed from city walls and advertising boards.
Representatives of minority groups confirmed mosques in Lahore and other big cities in Punjab had largely stopped using loudspeakers to preach against smaller religious group.
“But (that is) only in big cities where police do strong checks. In smaller towns and rural areas, loudspeakers are still being used for hate speech,” said Saleemur Rehman, spokesman for the Ahmadi community which is often targeted.
Peter Jacob, Director National Commission for Justice and Peace (NCJP), added that hate speech continues on social media and is plastered to rickshaws and public buses.
“There is no change in the level of intolerance in the society,” he said.
Sukhera said the crackdown on radical groups such as Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, a Sunni Muslim sectarian militant group, had helped reduce crime in Punjab. The murder rate in 2015 fell 26 percent to 4,522 from a year earlier. The number of “terrorism/suicide/sectarian” incidents declined 56 percent, he added.