Pakistan: Asia bibi’s blasphemy case, a final plea for justice
In a briefing paper released today, the ICJ provides answers to key questions regarding the blasphemy case against Asia Noreen (Asia bibi), a 45-year old Christian woman convicted and sentenced to death for “defaming the Prophet Muhammad” in 2010.
Tomorrow, on Thursday 13 October 2016, the Supreme Court of Pakistan is scheduled to hear Asia bibi’s appeal challenging her conviction and death sentence for blasphemy.
The Lahore High Court had upheld her conviction and sentence in October 2014.
“Asia bibi has been on death row for six years under a bad law that has been improperly applied,” said Sam Zarifi, ICJ’s Asia Director.
“The Supreme Court has previously held that people accused of blasphemy in Pakistan ‘suffer beyond proportion or repair’– Asia bibi’s case is an illustration of that injustice and suffering,” he added.
If the Supreme Court upholds her conviction, Asia bibi will be at the risk of execution, with only limited options of filing for a review of the judgment and making a mercy petition to the President of Pakistan.
The Supreme Court has so far not upheld any convictions for blasphemy under section 295-C of the Penal Code (defamation of the Prophet Muhammad).
The briefing paper explains the allegations against Asia bibi and assesses the violations of Pakistani and international fair trial standards during her blasphemy trial and high court appeal.
“This is the first blasphemy appeal being heard by the Supreme Court since 2002,” Zarifi said.
“All eyes are on the Court to see if it will provide justice to Asia bibi, and whether it will try to clean up some of the manifest injustices of the blasphemy law and how it’s being applied today,” he addedd.
The ICJ opposes laws that criminalize the exercise of freedom of expression as protected by international law and standards, including in relation to religion, and opposes capital punishment in all circumstances.
The death penalty constitutes a violation of the right to life and the right not to be subjected to cruel, inhuman or degrading punishment.
Sam Zarifi, ICJ Asia Pacific Regional Director (Bangkok), t: +66 807819002; e: sam.zarifi(a)icj.org
Reema Omer, ICJ International Legal Adviser for Pakistan (London), t: +44 7889565691; e: reema.omer(a)icj.org
In November last year, the ICJ published a report documenting in detail systematic and widespread violations of the right to a fair trial in proceedings related to blasphemy offences in Pakistan, particularly in trial courts. The report confirmed concerns raised by the Supreme Court of Pakistan that individuals accused of blasphemy ‘suffer beyond proportion or repair’ in the absence of adequate safeguards.
The ICJ also made a number of recommendations to the Pakistani executive, legislative and judicial branches to address violations caused by application of the blasphemy laws, whether due to the legislative provisions themselves or at the investigative, prosecutorial, procedural, administrative and judicial levels highlighted in the report, including to ensure that those accused of blasphemy have a fair chance at defending themselves.
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