Posted: 19 November 2010
Aasia Bibi, a Pakistani Christian woman, has been sentenced to death under the country’s blasphemy laws.
The 45-year-old mother of five children was found guilty of blasphemy and sentenced to death under Section 295B and 295C of Pakistan’s Penal Code, for insulting the Prophet Muhammad, by a court in Nankana, around 45 miles west of the city of Lahore in Punjab province.
Amnesty International believes Aasia Bibi has been prosecuted because she is a member of a minority faith, and is calling for her to be released immediately and for the abolition of all laws which violate the rights to freedom of opinion and expression.
Tim Hancock, Campaigns Director at Amnesty International UK, said:
“The decision to execute Aasia Bibi is absolutely abhorrent and barbaric. It is obvious that she has been targeted purely because of her faith and now faces execution because the law in Pakistan permits and encourages the persecution of religious minorities.
“President Zardari must put an immediate halt to this execution, and ensure that the blasphemy laws in Pakistan are re-examined so that they cannot be used to persecute and victimise minority groups in this way.”
Aasia Bibi, a resident of Ittanwali, was arrested in June 2009. She was working as a farm labourer and was asked by a village elder’s wife to fetch some drinking water. A number of female Muslim farmhands reportedly refused to drink the water, saying it was sacrilegious and “unclean” to accept water from a non-Muslim. Aasia Bibi took offence, reportedly saying: “are we not human?” which led to an argument between them. The women complained to Qari Salim, the local cleric, alleging that Aasia Bibi had made derogatory remarks about the Prophet Muhammad.
The cleric informed local police who arrested and charged her with insulting the Prophet Muhammad. Aasia Bibi denies the allegations and her husband, Ashiq Masih, claims her conviction was based on “false accusations”. However, the trial judge, Naveed Iqbal, “totally ruled out” the possibility of false charges and said that there were “no mitigating circumstances”. She was sentenced on 8 November.
Aasia Bibi has now filed an appeal against the judgment in the Lahore High Court. She has been detained in prison and held in isolation since June 2009, during which time she has apparently had no access to a lawyer.
Evidence from Amnesty International and other human rights groups suggests that charges brought against individuals under the blasphemy laws are often unfounded malicious accusations stemming from personal enmity.
Many of those accused or suspected of blasphemy have been assaulted or tortured. Some people detained on blasphemy charges in prisons have been killed by fellow detainees or prison wardens.
The blasphemy laws introduced in 1982 and 1986, while purporting to protect Islam and religious sensitivities of the Muslim majority, are vaguely formulated and arbitrarily enforced by the police and judiciary in a way which amounts to harassment and persecution of religious minorities. The Federal Shariat Court, whose tasks include reviewing laws to ensure they conform with Islamic doctrine, ruled in 1991 that anyone convicted of blasphemy should face the death penalty, not life imprisonment.
"Defiling the name of the Prophet Mohammed" is a capital offence under Section 295C of the Pakistan Penal Code, which states, "Whoever by words, either spoken or written or by visible representation, or by any imputation, innuendo, or insinuation, directly or indirectly, defiles the sacred name of the Holy Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) shall be punished with death, or imprisonment for life, and shall also be liable to a fine".
Articles 18 and 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights set out that everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience, religion, opinion and expression. International human rights law provides that any limitations placed on these freedoms should be only such as are prescribed by law as well as being necessary and proportionate for, among other things, the protection of the rights and freedoms of others.