Pakistan: FORUM-ASIA welcomes Asia Bibi’s acquittal on blasphemy charges and calls for the repeal of blasphemy laws
2 November 2018 5:38 pm

(Kathmandu/Bangkok, 2 November 2018) – The Asian Forum for Human Right and Development (FORUM-ASIA) welcomes the historic decision by the Supreme Court of Pakistan to acquit Asia Bibi, a Christian woman who was sentenced to death on blasphemy charges in 2010. Bibi was accused of insulting the Prophet Mohammed by fellow labourers after a heated argument.

Blasphemy laws in Pakistan have been increasingly used as a tool to persecute religious minorities. Section 295 of the Pakistan Penal Code carries a mandatory death penalty for anyone found guilty of defaming the Prophet Mohammad and life imprisonment for desecrating the Holy Quran.

Blasphemy charges serve as a pretext for religious extremism and vigilantism in Pakistan. Salman Taseer, ex-governor of Punjab, was killed by his own bodyguard in 2011 for his comments on reforms for blasphemy laws in the country. Shahbaz Bhatti, the first Federal Minister for Minorities Affairs, was assassinated in March 2011 for his criticism of the blasphemy laws of Pakistan. Rashid Rehman, a prominent Pakistani lawyer and a regional coordinator for the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP), was assassinated in 2014 for representing a blasphemy accused.

Tehreek-i-Labaik-Pakistan, a political party, had threatened to paralyse the country if the Court sets Asia Bibi free. While the verdict of the Supreme Court is heartening and praiseworthy, it is unfortunate that a large crowd of hardliners gathered outside the Court demanding Bibi’s execution.

More than 60 people have been killed outside the justice system since 1990 in cases related to blasphemy, which have been widely misused to avenge personal enmities, political differences, and tribal and community rivalries.

Pakistan has executed 496 people since 2014 on different charges, including blasphemy, amidst serious fair trial concerns. The Supreme Court of Pakistan has overturned 85% of death sentences during appeals primarily on the basis of faulty investigations and lack of credible evidence.[1]

FORUM-ASIA believes that blasphemy laws are retrogressive, discriminatory, and inconsistent with human rights standards and principles, especially the right to freedom of religion and expression. Welcoming the Supreme Court’s decision to acquit Asia Bibi, FORUM-ASIA urges the Government of Pakistan: (a) to review all pending cases and ensure fair trial and speedy justice to all held for blasphemy charges; and (b) to repeal blasphemy laws as a matter of priority and abolish death penalty under all circumstances.

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For a PDF version of this statement, click here

For further information, please contact:

– sasia@forum-asia.org, South Asia Programme, FORUM-ASIA

[1] Counting the Condemned- Data Analysis of Pakistan’s Use of the Death