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PAK

Pakistan: 'Ludicrous' blasphemy charges against eight-year-old must be dropped immediately

Responding to the news that an eight-year-old Hindu boy in Bhong village in Rahim Yar Khan, Punjab, has been charged with blasphemy – which can carry a mandatory death penalty – after he was alleged to have urinated in the library of a madrasa (religious school) where religious texts were kept, Rimmel Mohydin, Amnesty International’s South Asia Campaigner, said: “Pakistan’s blasphemy laws have long been abused to target minority groups, but this case marks a shocking and extreme departure. As well as ensuring that these ludicrous charges are dropped, Pakistan’s authorities must immediately

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HUMAN RIGHTS DEFENDER ABDUCTED WITHOUT TRACE

Pakistan: Human rights defender abducted without race

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Seengar Noonari is a grassroots activist who has been engaged in social work and uplifting his community. This has included work to promote the education of girls, calling for more government schools to be built in his district of Nasirabad in Sindh. He has also been engaged with groups that promote social and religious harmony. In 2009, he joined the Awami Workers Party, a political organization that works to promote the rights of workers, peasants, students, women and ethnic and religious minorities. Through that he has been campaigning to improve working conditions and most recently, has been organizing his community to push back against allegedly illegal land grabs by a private property developer. It is widely believed by his supporters that this is what resulted in his forced abduction.

Fouzia, Seengar Noonari’s wife, told Amnesty International that at 3:00 am on the morning of 26 June 2021, about 15 armed men broke into their small house while they were asleep. Her children, aged between 15 months and 10 years, were with them as they ransacked their house. They seized two mobile phones, an internet device, a USB and a few books before blindfolding Seengar and taking him away. 

His wife submitted a petition to the Sindh High Court on 2 July, calling for Seengar to be produced in court. Notices were issued to the Sindh police, the chief of Rangers (a paramilitary force under the command of the Pakistan army) and the station house officer of Nasirabad Police Station, alongside the Deputy and Additional Attorney Generals, seeking their response by July 13. In previous cases, however, such orders have not been adhered to. Court orders from all over the country surrounding the whereabouts of a disappeared person have been flouted or face extraordinary delays. 

In Pakistan, enforced disappearance has been used as a tool to muzzle dissent. The individuals and groups targeted in enforced disappearances include Sindhis, Baloch, Pashtuns, the Shia community, political activists, human rights defenders, members and supporters of religious and nationalist groups, suspected members of armed groups, and proscribed religious and political organisations in Pakistan.

The current government of Imran Khan promised to criminalize enforced disappearances through legislation. After families staged a sit-in in Feb 2021 for days, Imran Khan met with the families, pledging to bring an end to the practice. According to victim groups, there have been some returns in recent months. 

However, these seem to be ad hoc, and returnees are reluctant to share their experiences and never press charges. Dr Shireen Mazari, the Minister for Human Rights, introduced a bill in the National Assembly criminalizing enforced disappearance in June 2021, but the practice of enforced disappearance continues in the country with impunity.
 

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Pakistan: Acquittal of Christian couple on death row for 'blasphemous' texts finally delivers justice

Shagufta Kausar and Shafqat Emmanuel were sentenced to death in 2014 Responding to the Lahore High Court’s decision to acquit Shagufta Kausar and her husband Shafqat Emmanuel, a Christian couple who were sentenced to death in 2014 for ‘sending blasphemous texts’, Dinushika Dissanayake, Amnesty International’s South Asia Deputy Director, said, "Today’s decision puts an end to the seven-year long ordeal of a couple who should not have been convicted nor faced a death sentence in the first place. “‘Blasphemy’ cases are often premised on flimsy evidence in environments that make fair trials

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Pakistan: 'Appalling' escalating attacks on journalists must stop

Hamid Mir was suspended after speaking out in support of journalist colleagues

Authorities must stop stifling dissent, and instead protect the media A recent series of attacks and growing pressure on journalists who criticise the Pakistan government is a cause for serious concern, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and the International Commission of Jurists said today in a joint statement. Pakistani journalists have long faced serious obstacles to their work, including harassment, intimidation, assault, arbitrary arrest and detention, abduction, and death. In recent months, violent attacks on journalists have increased dramatically. Brad Adams, Asia director at

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AILING PROFESSOR GRANTED BAIL, CHARGES REMAIN

Pakistan: Ailing professor granted bail, charges remain

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Urgent Action outcome: Ailing professor granted bail, charges remain

Professor Muhammad Ismail was finally granted bail by the Peshawar High Court on 12 April 2021.

3rd update on UA 148/19

HEALTH OF DEATH ROW PRISONER IN SHARP DECLINE

Health of death row prisoner in sharp decline

Shafqat and Shagufta
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According to a 2014 medical assessment, Shafqat was diagnosed as a paraplegic and suffered from large pressure sores. His lawyers say that he has never received appropriate medical treatment for his injuries, some of which originated from a gunshot wound (unrelated to the events that led to his imprisonment and death sentence). Shafqat’s family stated that he was in a coma for three days in March 2021 but was not shifted to a proper medical facility.

The right to the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health including preventative, curative and palliative health care, is enshrined in international human rights law and standards. The International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), ratified by Pakistan in 2008, stipulates the obligation under Article 12 “to respect, protect and fulfill the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health, including those who are imprisoned or detained.”

In addition to Shafqat’s health, his death sentence makes the situation even more precarious. Pakistan’s blasphemy laws are notoriously vague and carry heavy penalties. Based on evidence that fails to meet the standard of proof of “beyond reasonable doubt.”, the accused can face a death sentence. The blasphemy laws violate Pakistan’s obligations to respect human rights and pave the way for other abuses, including death threats and killings. Judges are pressured and intimidated into sentencing the accused, lest they become the next target. Defence lawyers have been killed in court. Witnesses and families of victims have had to go into hiding. 

When charges are levelled under most of these laws, the police have the authority to arrest the alleged offender without a warrant and can commence their investigation without orders from the magistrate’s court. Bowing to public pressure from angry crowds, including religious clerics and their supporters, they frequently pass cases on to prosecutors without scrutinising the evidence. And once someone is charged, they can be denied bail and face lengthy and unfair trials.

The threat of violence follows many people accused of blasphemy, with groups or individuals taking the law into their own hands to threaten or kill the accused and other people associated with them, including their lawyers, members of their families, and members of their own community.

A pall of fear also hangs over those working in Pakistan’s criminal justice system, preventing lawyers, police, prosecutors and judges from carrying out their jobs effectively, impartially, and free of fear. A concerning pattern of delaying tactics in Shafqat and Shagufta’s trial appears to be emerging, where at their last two hearings – one scheduled on 15 February, and the latest on 24 February – the judges have excused themselves from hearing their appeal, citing that court hours for the day had come to an end. Amnesty International has documented that postponements have been a common factor in several other cases of people accused of “blasphemy”, with judges often suspected of employing these tactics out of reluctance to pass judgments exonerating the accused. Indeed, trials of people accused of serious charges, including blasphemy, can take many years to conclude in Pakistan’s criminal justice system.

In a report published in 2016 Amnesty International showed how the blasphemy laws enable abuse and violate Pakistan’s international legal obligations to respect and protect human rights, including freedom of religion or belief and of opinion and expression. It also showed how the laws have been used to target some of the most vulnerable people in society, including members of religious minorities. Pakistan’s Supreme Court has acknowledged that “the majority of blasphemy cases are based on false accusations” and are driven by ulterior motives. Amnesty International has found that such motives are rarely scrutinized by the authorities and can vary, from professional rivalry, to personal or religious disputes, to seeking economic gain.

Amnesty International opposes the death penalty in all cases without exception, regardless of the nature or the circumstances of the crime; the guilt, innocence or other characteristics of the individual; or the method used by the state to carry out the execution.
 

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CHRISTIAN COUPLE ON DEATH ROW FOR ‘BLASPHEMY’

Christian couple on death row for "blasphemy"

Shagufta Kausar and Shafqat Emmanuel
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A concerning pattern of delaying tactics in Shafqat and Shagufta’s trial appears to be emerging, where at their last two hearings – one scheduled on 15 February, and the latest on 24 February – the judges have excused themselves from hearing their appeal, citing that court hours for the day had come to an end. Amnesty International has documented that postponements have been a common factor in several other cases of people accused of “blasphemy”, with judges often suspected of employing these tactics out of reluctance to pass judgments exonerating the accused. Indeed, trials of people accused of serious charges, including blasphemy, can take many years to conclude in Pakistan’s criminal justice system.

Pakistan’s blasphemy laws are notoriously vague and carry heavy penalties. Based on evidence that fails to meet the standard of proof of “beyond reasonable doubt.”, the accused can face a death sentence. The blasphemy laws violate Pakistan’s obligations to respect human rights and pave the way for other abuses, including death threats and killings. Judges are pressured and intimidated into sentencing the accused, lest they become the next target. Defence lawyers have been killed in court. Witnesses and families of victims have had to go into hiding. 
When charges are levelled under most of these laws, the police have the authority to arrest the alleged offender without a warrant and can commence their investigation without orders from the magistrate’s court. Bowing to public pressure from angry crowds, including religious clerics and their supporters, they frequently pass cases on to prosecutors without scrutinising the evidence. And once someone is charged, they can be denied bail and face lengthy and unfair trials.

The threat of violence follows many people accused of blasphemy, with groups or individuals taking the law into their own hands to threaten or kill the accused and other people associated with them, including their lawyers, members of their families, and members of their own community.

A pall of fear also hangs over those working in Pakistan’s criminal justice system, preventing lawyers, police, prosecutors and judges from carrying out their jobs effectively, impartially, and free of fear. 

In a report published in 2016 Amnesty International showed how the blasphemy laws enable abuse and violate Pakistan’s international legal obligations to respect and protect human rights, including freedom of religion or belief and of opinion and expression. It also showed how the laws have been used to target some of the most vulnerable people in society, including members of religious minorities. Pakistan’s Supreme Court has acknowledged that “the majority of blasphemy cases are based on false accusations” and are driven by ulterior motives. Amnesty International has found that such motives are rarely scrutinized by the authorities and can vary, from professional rivalry, to personal or religious disputes, to seeking economic gain.

Amnesty International opposes the death penalty in all cases without exception, regardless of the nature or the circumstances of the crime; the guilt, innocence or other characteristics of the individual; or the method used by the state to carry out the execution.
 

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HUMAN RIGHTS DEFENDER DENIED CIVILIAN COURT TRIAL

Human rights defender denied civilian court trial

Idris Khattak
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At a hearing at the Peshawar High Court on 13 January 2021, the Khattak family appealed that as a civilian, Idris must be tried in a civilian court and not a military court. This appeal was denied in an order published on 28 January 2021. More information about the charges against Idris were revealed in the judgment published on 30 January 2021. He has been charged on multiple counts related to spying and other conduct “prejudicial to the safety or interests of the State” under Section 3 of the Official Secrets Act (OSA) as well as section 59 of the Pakistan Army Act, 1952 – which gives military courts jurisdiction to try civilians for some offences under the OSA.

This "offence" seems to be a meeting with Michael Semple in July 2009 - over ten years before his enforced disappearance. The court order dubs Semple as an MI6 agent. At the time of the meetings, Semple was a fellow at Harvard University's Carr Center for Human Rights and had been a high-ranking UN and EU official in Afghanistan for 20 years. He was expelled from Afghanistan for "unauthorized activity in 2008." Semple is currently a professor at Queen's University in Belfast.

The court order makes no mention of Idris’s enforced disappearance, or any accountability that the authorities must face for keeping him apart from his family, and his family being kept in the dark of whether he was even alive.

After significant pressure, Idris’ daughter Talia was granted a 20-minute meeting on 7 October 2020. During the supervised meeting, she was not allowed to speak to him in their native language of Pashto (which they normally converse in) and could not ask him any questions about the case. He told her that the charges against him were “bogus.”

Since then, there has been no contact between him and his family or his lawyer and he remains arbitrarily detained. Even though there is proof of life, his current whereabouts is unknown. Under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Pakistan is party, civilians must not be subjected to the jurisdiction of a military court.

Idris Khattak has worked as a consultant with Amnesty International and other international human rights NGOs. For years, he has documented a wide range of human rights violations and humanitarian crises in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and the former Federally Administered Tribal Areas. 

He was on his way home from Islamabad when his rented car was intercepted near the Swabi Interchange of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province. The only other person in the car was the driver with whom Idris Khattak has travelled frequently. The driver was also picked up with Idris Khattak on 13 November 2019. His family only found out about his disappearance once the driver was released the night of 15 November 2019. 

On the night of 16 June 2020, the Ministry of Defence finally admitted that they have Idris Khattak in their custody, and this was reiterated by a hearing held by the Joint Investigation Team on 17 June 2020. 

In Pakistan, enforced disappearance has been used as a tool to muzzle dissent and criticism of military policies.   The individuals and groups targeted in enforced disappearances include Sindhis, Baloch, Pashtuns, the Shia community, political activists, human rights defenders, members and supporters of religious and nationalist groups, suspected members of armed groups, and proscribed religious and political organisations in Pakistan.

The current government of Imran Khan promised to criminalize enforced disappearances through legislation. However, no such legislation has even been tabled in the parliament. Shireen Mazari, the Minister for Human Rights, has stated that government wants to sign the International Convention for Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearances, but no progress has been made on this front. Instead, the practice of enforced disappearance continues in the country with impunity.
 

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Pakistan: 'landmark' ban on executing prisoners with mental disabilities

Only a small minority of countries in the world still use the death penalty © AAMIR QURESHI/AFP/Getty Images

Supreme Court says executing two men diagnosed with schizophrenia would not ‘meet the ends of justice’ Fresh call for abolition of death penalty in all cases Ruling ‘marks an important development not only for the death penalty, but also for mental health’ - Rimmel Mohydin Responding to today’s judgement by Pakistan’s Supreme Court commuting the death sentences of Imdad Ali and Kanizan Bibi and placing a ban on the imposition of the death penalty on those with mental disabilities, Rimmel Mohydin, Pakistan Campaigner at Amnesty International, said: “This landmark judgment from Pakistan’s

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