ASIA/PAKISTAN - Citizens imprisoned for blasphemy and abuse of rights: the Senate takes action

Thursday, 19 October 2023 human rights   blasphemy   religious minorities  

Islamabad (Agenzia Fides) - The Standing Committee on Human Rights of the Pakistani Senate announced that 179 Pakistani citizens are currently in detention and awaiting trial for blasphemy. In addition, 17 people have already been convicted of blasphemy and are awaiting a second trial. The statistics, described as "heartbreaking" by Pakistan's National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), which collected and processed the data, were released following last August's incident in Jaranwala, a city in Punjab, where a violent mob destroyed several homes and churches following a blasphemy charge against two Christians.
Senator Walid Iqbal, chairman of the Senate Standing Committee on Human Rights, sought clarification on blasphemy cases, calling for the formation of a national coordination committee within the human rights ministry to develop standard operating procedures to address issues that cause suffering and unjust “collective punishment” to minority communities. Senator Iqbal said he was concerned about "the misuse of blasphemy laws as a means to resolve personal issues." The Commission is determined to study measures to prevent such abuses and will consider draft legislation to this end. In this context, the Christian community learned good news: Kiran Bibi and Shaukat Masih, involved in a controversial blasphemy case a month ago in Lahore, were released on bail on October 18. The case arose from a complaint filed on September 8 under article 295-b of the blasphemy law, which punishes "desecration of the Holy Quran" and provides for severe penalties, including life imprisonment or the death penalty. The complainant, Muslim Muhammad Tamoor, claimed to have found pages of the Quran thrown in the rubbish in the Christian couple's home. The judge noted that the plaintiff did not personally witness the defendants' alleged crime. An on-site investigation suggested that the couple's minor children may have thrown away a few pages of an eighth-grade Islamic study book. The court recalled that one of the basic conditions for blasphemy charges is intentional damage to the text of the Quran and that, in this particular case, this crucial element appeared to be missing, even in the absence of eyewitness testimony. The court therefore granted the bail request and requested further investigation. Nasir Saeed, director of the NGO Center for Legal Aid, Assistance and Settlement (CLAAS), comments: "This is a historic decision, which highlights the importance of establishing the facts and ensuring that justice prevails. Courts often deny bail requests and leave innocent defendants in jail without evidence. Appropriate changes to blasphemy laws are needed to prevent innocent people from suffering for crimes they did not commit." (PA) (Agenzia Fides, 19/10/2023)