Amnesty International issues Urgent Action over death sentence for blasphemy
Amnesty International reports that on 16 October, the High Court of Appeal in Lahore declined an appeal against the 2010 conviction of Asia Bibi, a Christian Pakistan woman sentenced to death under Section 295C of Pakistan’s Penal Code for allegedly insulting the Prophet Muhammad during an argument with a Muslim woman. There are very serious doubts as to the fairness of the entire trial.
The defendant denies the charges, says the evidence of her alleged blasphemy was fabricated, and says she had no access to a lawyer, not while in detention and not on the final day of her 2010 trial. Human rights activists suspect the High Court judges have now declined her appeal out of fears for their own personal safety, as many religious groups who are supporters of her accusers were present in court.
Since her 2009 arrest, Bibi has been kept in almost total isolation for her own protection. Her mental and physical health are said to have deteriorated and her family and lawyers fear for her safety, as a prominent Muslim cleric offered offered the equivalent of almost EUR 4 000 for her assassination in 2010.
Bibi’s detention violates her human rights. Pakistan’s laws on blasphemy also conflict with its international obligations to guarantee freedom of thought, conscience and religion and freedom of expression.
Charges of blasphemy in Pakistan are usually levied in order to exact revenge over personal disputes. Those accused of blasphemy often become targets of violence.
No one has ever actually been executed for blasphemy in Pakistan, but since the blasphemy laws took effect in the 1980s, many people from different religious communities charged with blasphemy, including Muslims, have been killed by private individuals, including while in prison awaiting trial. Amnesty International’s Urgent Action is calling for the authorities to release Bibi immediately and to “take effective steps to guarantee her safety and that of her family”.
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