Pakistan must abolish blasphemy laws

Human rights advocate murdered

After a human rights advocate was murdered in Pakistan on Wednesday evening, the Society for Threatened Peoples (STP) demanded that the blasphemy laws in the south-Asian country must be abolished immediately. "The blasphemy laws lead to more arbitrariness and violence and are systematically abused to restrict the religious freedom of religious minorities," explained Ulrich Delius, the STP's Asia-consultant, on Thursday. The nationally respected Pakistani human rights lawyer Rashid Rehman was shot dead by two suspected Islamist extremists who had invaded his office in the city of Multan. Two employees were wounded by gunshots. The perpetrators could escape unrecognized. During the last few weeks, the lawyer, who also worked as a regional coordinator for the Pakistan Human Rights Commission, had repeatedly been threatened because of his commitment for victims of the blasphemy laws.

"In Pakistan, there are unjust court proceedings based on the controversial blasphemy laws and politically motivated murders every month," criticized Delius. The human rights advocate who was now murdered had defended Junaid Hafeez, a guest lecturer at the Bahauddin Zaklariya University. During a court hearing on April 9, several people had threatened Rashid Rehman with the words "You won't be present at the next court hearing! You'll be dead!" The judge had done nothing. A student had accused his client of distributing a cartoon to mock the prophet Muhammad. Hafeez denied the allegations, stating that the student had simply been jealous of his position as a lecturer.  

"Most of the blasphemy cases are based on envy, personal enmity or motifs of revenge," said Delius. "The blasphemy laws are virtually made to be abused – and lawyers and judges who try to stop this will risk their lives." 34 people were accused of blasphemy in Pakistan in 2013, most of them Christians, Ahmadiyyah-Muslims or Hindus. 27 cases were registered in 2012. Some of the members of religious minorities are even sentenced to death based on the blasphemy laws, but these sentences were not enforced so far.

The Christian Shafqat Emmanuel and his wife Kausar Shagufta were sentenced to death in an unjust blasphemy-trial on April 4, 2014. Despite the fact that they are illiterate, they were accused of sending a mobile phone text message that mocks the prophet Muhammad.

On March 27, 2014, the Catholic Savan Masi was sentenced to death under similar circumstances. The worker is said to have mocked Muhammad during a conversation with a Muslim friend. Following his arrest, Islamists had set about a hundred Christian houses near his home on fire. All Christians have fled from the district.

Ulrich Delius, head of STP's Asia department, is available for further questions: +49 551 49906 27 or asien@gfbv.de.