Blasphemy a Religious & Political Issue - Enforcing Rights - History Example Pakistan - Gender

Direct Link to Full 100-Page 2020 Report:

Violating Rights: Enforcing the World’s Blasphemy Laws (

Pakistan Under Pressure to Repeal Blasphemy Laws

March 20, 2018 - At least 1,472 people — both non-Muslims and secular Muslims — have been charged under Pakistan's controversial blasphemy laws since 1987. Despite international pressure, Pakistani authorities are unwilling to amend or repeal the laws.


In an interview, Saif-ul-Malook, the lawyer of Asia Bibi, a Christian woman sentenced to death in 2010 for committing blasphemy, says while international support for Bibi is encouraging, he is not hopeful for clemency.

Asia Bibi has been languishing in prison for almost nine years now. The 53-year-old mother of five was arrested in June, 2009, after her neighbors complained that she had made derogatory remarks about Islam's prophet, Muhammad. A year later, Bibi was sentenced to death under Pakistan's controversial blasphemy law despite strong opposition from national and international human rights groups.  

Blasphemy laws in Pakistan, where 97 percent of the population is Muslim, were introduced by the military dictator General Zia-ul-Haq in the 1980s. But activists say they are often implemented in cases that have little to do with blasphemy and are used to settle petty disputes and personal vendettas. Christians, Hindus and Ahmadis — a minority Islamic sect — are often victimized as a result.

Bibi appealed against her death sentence but her last appearance before Pakistan's Supreme Court in 2016 was adjourned amid Islamist protests.

In 2016, Bibi's husband Ashiq Masih asked for presidential clemency for his imprisoned wife and wrote to President Mamnoon Hussain, seeking permission to move her to France, where the Council of Paris had unanimously adopted a proposal to award honorary citizenship to Bibi the same year. 

But there has been overwhelming opposition to Bibi's release in Pakistan, where the issue is no longer only religious but also highly political. A few months after Bibi's conviction, Salman Taseer, a former governor of the Punjab province, was even murdered by his bodyguard, Mumtaz Qadri, because of his efforts to amend the country's blasphemy laws and his support for Bibi.

Still, international pressure for Bibi's release is mounting, which has put Pakistani authorities in a tough spot. Recently, Italian authorities turned Rome's Colosseum red to honor persecuted Christians, including Asia Bibi. Pope Francis also met with Bibi's family and offered his support to the imprisoned Pakistani woman.

According to media reports, Jan Figel, the EU's Special Envoy for Freedom of Religion or Belief, told Pakistani officials that the renewal of their export privileges to Europe was linked to Bibi's release.

Will Pakistani authorities pay heed to the demands of the international community and release Bibi? What could be the political repercussions of such a move?

In an interview with DW, Bibi's lawyer Saif-ul-Malook talks about the current status of Bibi's case, the possibility of a presidential pardon for Bibi, and the sensitivity surrounding the issue of blasphemy in Pakistan.

DW: Would you shed light on the present status of Asia Bibi's case?

Saif-ul-Malook: Bibi's appeal is pending before the Supreme Court of Pakistan. I hope we will get the date for a final hearing soon.

The last time the apex court heard the case was in October 2016. Later, the case could not be taken up as one of the judges recused himself on the ground that he had been dealing with Mumtaz Qadri's case as chief justice of the Islamabad High Court. 

But that happened a year-and-a-half ago. Why has the Supreme Court not fixed another date for hearing? 

I think it is not a very high priority case for the court. The last time I met the Supreme Court registrar, he told me that over 2,000 appeals against death sentences were pending before the court. But we hope to get a date pretty soon.

Have you faced any threats from extremist groups for taking up Bibi's case? What motivates you to continue your legal fight for her?

No lawyer was willing to prosecute Mumtaz Qadri because they all feared for their lives. But I prosecuted him and finally got him convicted. 

Asia Bibi's case was linked to that of Qadri's. I think someone has to take up such cases. Every citizen has the legal right to be defended by a lawyer of his or her own choice.

Does the international support for Bibi work for or against her?

I think it hasn't had any impact on the attitude of the Pakistani government. We must not forget that the Pakistani government is the prosecutor in Bibi's case. 

But international support does encourage me and Bibi. You feel strong when your work is appreciated and supported. When I tell Bibi that so many countries want to grant her citizenship, it gives her courage and makes her forget that she has been imprisoned for nine long years.

Is Bibi being treated well in prison? 

Yes, I can assure you that she is being treated well. I visit her quite often. She has no complaints against the prison officials, who are all women.

Are Bibi's family and friends also facing threats in Pakistan?

To support someone who is accused of blasphemy is extremely dangerous in Pakistan. It is a very sensitive case. So yes, people close to Bibi are in danger. We pray to God for their safety.

Is there a chance for a presidential pardon for Asia Bibi?

I don't think so. The opposition from a large section of the Pakistani society is so immense that I don't think that Bibi would get a presidential pardon. According to the country's constitution, the president acts on the prime minister's advice, and I don't think any civilian premier in Pakistan can afford to make such a request to the president.

The interview was conducted by Shah Meer Baloch in Islamabad.


 Full Article:

 Pakistan - Asia Bibi’s Appeal Against the Death Penalty for Alleged Blasphemy - Test Case for Pakistan

 “Irrespective of what Pakistan's top court will rule on the blasphemy-accused Christian woman Asia Bibi's case, it will be viewed globally from a human rights perspective - A crucial test for the country.”


Pakistan – Christian Woman Sentenced to Death for “Blasphemy”- Supreme Court Appeal Decision Forthcoming - Oct 13, 2016

 The family of Asia Bibi is waiting anxiously for the Supreme Court to announce her appeal in a case that has been ongoing for over six years.

Asia Bibi, a Christian mother of five, has been on death row since 2010. She was accused of committing blasphemy in 2009. A trial court had found her guilty of the crime and awarded her the death sentence. The Lahore High Court (LHC) upheld the sentence.

In 2011, former Punjab governor Salman Taseer, who spoke out in support of Bibi, was gunned down in broad daylight in Islamabad. His assassin Mumtaz Qadri was executed earlier in 2016 after the court found him guilty of murder.

The lawyers of Bibi have approached the SC as a last resort, seeking repeal of her sentence.

A day before the hearing of Asia's final appeal challenging her conviction and death sentence for blasphemy before a bench of the Supreme Court, [International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) released Questions and Answers about the case.

The Q&A explains the allegations against Asia Bibi and describes her blasphemy trial and appeal before the LHC.

What are the allegations against Asia Bibi and when was she convicted?

Asia Bibi was convicted for blasphemy under section 295-C of the Pakistan Penal Code for allegedly defaming Prophet Muhammad (PBUH). The offence carries mandatory death penalty under Pakistani law.

The allegations against Asia Bibi are that she made three “defamatory and sarcastic” statements about the Prophet (PBUH) on June 14, 2009, during an argument with three Muslim women while the four of them were picking fruit in a field.

The prosecution also claims Asia Bibi “admitted” making these statements at a “public gathering” on June 19, 2009 and asked for forgiveness.

A trial court convicted Asia Bibi for blasphemy in November 2010 and sentenced her to death. The Lahore High Court (LHC)upheld her conviction and confirmed her death sentence in October 2014.

The Supreme Court (SC) admitted her appeal in July 2015. The first hearing of the appeal before the SC was scheduled to take place on October 13, 2016.

What was the evidence in support of the allegations against Asia Bibi?

The prosecution presented seven witnesses to support the allegations of blasphemy against Asia bibi.

Two eyewitnesses, Mafia Bibi and Asma Bibi, claimed they heard Asia Bibi make the allegedly blasphemous remarks, and later “admit” to making the statements during a “public gathering” a few days later.

Other witnesses included the complainant Qari Muhammad Salaam, a local cleric, who claimed he heard about the alleged blasphemous statements from Mafia and Asma and got a criminal complaint for blasphemy registered with the police; three police officers who registered and investigated the case; and a local resident, Muhammad Afzal, who alleged he heard Asia Bibi admit to making “blasphemous remarks” and seek pardon at the “public gathering”.

What was Asia Bibi’s defense?

Asia Bibi stated she had a “quarrel” with Mafia and Asma on June 14, 2009, over their refusal to drink water brought for them by Asia Bibi because she was Christian.

She claimed “some hot words were exchanged” during the argument, after which Mafia and Asma, alongside Qari Muhammad Salaam and his wife (who taught Asma and Mafia the Quran), fabricated the blasphemy case against her.

Asia Bibi also stated that she had “great respect and honour for the Holy Prophet (PBUH) and the Holy Quran” and never made the alleged blasphemous remarks.

What are some of the problems with Asia Bibi’s conviction?

In its judgment in Asia Bibi’s case, the LHC conceded “the defence has not defended its case with the required seriousness…”

Yet, despite acknowledging possible violations of the right of a fair trial, particularly the right to an adequate defense, the court went on to uphold Asia Bibi’s conviction and death sentence.

Further, the trial court used Asia Bibi’s statement as an admission of guilt, finding that the “hot words” exchanged between her and “the Muslim ladies” were “switched into a religious matter”, and concluding that the “hot words” must have been “nothing other than the blasphemy”.

Curiously, however, the trial court rejected the notion that the altercation over water was a possible motive for the prosecution eyewitnesses to falsely implicate Asia Bibi for blasphemy.

The LHC too did not probe further into Asia Bibi’s statement, and held that there was no possible “ill will” between the eyewitnesses and the accused for them to fabricate the blasphemy allegations.

Both courts also disregarded discrepancies in the accounts of the witnesses regarding the “public gathering” where Asia Bibi allegedly “admitted” her guilt.

These discrepancies included significant differences in the number of people allegedly present at the “public gathering” (ranging from 100 to 2,000 in the different testimonies); how Asia Bibi was brought to the “public hearing”, and how long the “hearing” lasted.

The courts also failed to apply “tazkia-tul-shahood” (inquiry undertaken by the court to establish the credibility of witnesses), without which defendants cannot be convicted or punished in hadh (capital punishment) cases for certain offences under Pakistani law.

During the entire course of the proceedings, neither court considered which of the three statements attributed to Asia Bibi were “blasphemous” and why, or what was the “reasonable person” standard in the interpretation of section 295-C to meet the threshold of blasphemy.

Additionally, both courts did not consider whether Asia Bibi possessed the requisite criminal intent to commit the crime of blasphemy, despite the Federal Shariat Court’s ruling that blasphemy is an “intentional or reckless wrong”.

The prosecution’s failure to prove all elements of the offence, including the requisite intent to defame Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) calls into question the convictions by the trial court and LHC.

How does the application of blasphemy laws violate Pakistan’s human rights obligations?

The application of Pakistan’s blasphemy laws has been denounced for a variety of reasons.

Last year, the Supreme Court of Pakistan held that individuals accused of blasphemy “suffer beyond proportion or repair” in the absence of adequate safeguards against misapplication or misuse of such blasphemy laws.

Confirming the SC’s findings, ICJ’s 2015 study on the implementation of blasphemy laws in Pakistan found that more than 80 per cent of convictions by trial courts are overturned on appeal, very often because appellate courts find evidence and complaints fabricated based on “personal or political vendettas”.

The ICJ further found the following systematic and widespread fair trial violations in the application of the blasphemy laws, which also apply in Asia Bibi’s case:

The ICJ opposes the criminalisation of the exercise of the rights to freedom of expression and religion or belief in Pakistan in the shape of the blasphemy laws and considers them a flagrant violation of Pakistan’s international human rights obligations, including its obligations to respect the rights to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; freedom of expression; and equal treatment before the law.

Furthermore, mandatory death sentence — including under 295-C of the Penal Code — violates Pakistan’s obligations to respect the rights to life, to a fair trial, and to prohibit torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, said ICJ.


Also Via Human Rights Without Frontiers

 Pakistan - Christian Woman Sentenced to Death for Blasphemy, Files Appeal

 Asia Bibi was found guilty of insulting the prophet Muhammad four years ago after incident in June 2009

 Agence France-Presse in Lahore – 24 November 2014

A Pakistani Christian woman sentenced to death for blasphemy has filed an appeal in the country’s top court , her final legal recourse after being found guilty of insulting the prophet Muhammad four years ago.

A high court in Lahore confirmed the death sentence of Asia Bibi last month, dashing hopes the conviction might be quashed or commuted to a jail term. She has been on death row since November 2010 after being convicted of blasphemy during an argument with a Muslim woman over a bowl of water.

“On behalf of Asia Bibi I have today filed an appeal in the supreme court,” her lawyer Saiful Malook said on Monday.

Malook said in the petition his client had asked the court to reconsider deficiencies in the case including allegedly manipulated evidence and a delay between the time of the incident and its investigation by police. He added that the blasphemy claim was concocted by Bibi’s enemies to target her and had no basis in fact.

“We expect an early hearing of the appeal and hope that the proceedings will be over in one year,” Malook said.

The allegations against Bibi date back to June 2009, when she was labouring in a field and a row broke out with some Muslim women she was working with. She was asked to fetch water, but the Muslim women objected, saying that as a non-Muslim she was unfit to touch the water bowl. A few days later the women went to a local cleric and put forward the blasphemy allegations.

Bibi’s husband has also written to Pakistan’s president, Mamnoon Hussain, to ask for her to be pardoned and allowed to move to France.

“We are convinced that Asia will only be saved from being hanged if the venerable President Hussain grants her a pardon. No one should be killed for drinking a glass of water,” Ashiq Masih wrote in an open letter dated 17 November. The mayor of Paris, Anne Hidalgo, has said the couple are welcome in the city.

Blasphemy is a hugely sensitive issue in the majority Muslim country, with even unproven allegations often prompting mob violence. Pakistan has never executed anyone for blasphemy and has had a de facto moratorium on civilian executions since 2008. But anyone convicted, or even just accused, of insulting Islam, risks death at the hands of vigilantes.

Извор: WUNRN – 29.01.2021